Delays and work overruns aren’t an uncommon part of the Christmas experience on London’s railways. Ultimately, maintenance and improvement needs to be carried out and from a utilitarian perspective the opportunity to do so in a period where passenger numbers are generally lower is simply too good to miss.

It is rare, however, to see quite the level of disruption and overcrowding that was witnessed at Finsbury Park and on the East Coast Main Line last Christmas as a result of overrunning works between there and Kings Cross. Indeed, whilst it was not quite the disaster that the media and some politicians seemed determine to make it, it was certainly extreme enough to warrant further investigation, and a full report into what happened was swiftly commissioned by Network Rail. That report is now out, and it makes interesting reading. For it provides a window into the events that happened that weekend.

Some serious works

This particular Christmas period was a busy one for railway work. With Christmas falling on a Thursday, Network Rail were presented with what they saw as a rare four day period in which to carry out engineering work. Closures for the entire period would, of course, need to be avoided wherever possible, but it was still an opportunity.

Part of the East Coast Main Line, the section of the railway known as “Holloway Junction” (or just “Holloway”) is approximately 1½ miles and lies north of King’s Cross Station. Network Rail planned to take advantage of the festive period to replace two of the junctions there and 500m of the two railway lines between them. The work itself wasn’t unusual, but the scope was relatively ambitious. Ultimately over 6,000 tonnes of ballast would be replaced along with the rails and sleepers which sat on them and it was thus a considerable engineering and logistical challenge.


The two junctions and stretch of track to be replaced

In truth, all four tracks at Holloway needed renewal works, and a full seven day blockage had been considered to allow exactly that, but in the end it was difficult to justify the amount of disruption this would cause. Instead it was decided to carry out the work in two four day blockades, one at Christmas 2014 and one a year later at Christmas 2015. Both would focus on two sets of tracks each.

Although work was focused on only two of the tracks, for logistical reasons Network Rail would actually have to take possession of all four lines at Holloway for the bulk of the work’s duration. This was partly due to the scale of the work, but also because works being undertaken elsewhere along the East Coast Main Line meant it would be impossible to bring the necessary engineering trains straight from their depots. Instead, all fourteen engineering trains required at Holloway had to be brought up before work began and parked up.


A typical engineering train, photo credit: Mike Rowland, Taunton Trains.

The end result was a worksite that was of considerable size, stretching over all four lines, running to almost nine miles in length and requiring more than a little choreography in both work plans and train movement.

That work site would, however, have to shrink on the 27th December. This was because the main junction at Watford on the West Coast Main Line was also being renewed at the same time, leaving two of the key north/south routes closed at the same time. In discussion with the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) Network Rail thus agreed to hand back two of the tracks at Holloway in time for trains to at least operate a reduced timetable on the 27th. In effect, Network Rail would have two days of their blockade with all four lines at their disposal, then two days with only two of them, and the work programme was configured around this. This all meant a number of tasks having to be carried out in serial not parallel, but the likelihood of success was calculated to be 95%.

A success rate of 95% met Network Rail’s minimum requirements, but in order to help achieve this it was decided to take extra steps to assure the risk of equipment failure was minimal. This was crucial because if something failed there would be limited ability to bring in replacement equipment due to all the work going on elsewhere.

Critical to the work were the Road Rail Vehicles (RRVs) that would be used and the log grabs they would be equipped with. Seven log grabs were required for the work and the plant supplier agreed to supply Network Rail with eight brand new ones, the intention being to minimise the risk of failure and to ensure that there was a spare on site. They also agreed to provide an on site fitter so that any problems could be dealt with quickly.


Typical RRVs


Log grabs

The work – and the problems – begin

On paper everything seemed in order, but when work began on Christmas Day, things began to go wrong from the beginning. An hour was lost waiting for the OHLE to be isolated and permits confirming such to be issued. This was due to the sheer number of projects on the route, all of which had been planned to start at the same time. Despite Holloway being second on the priority list, it still got delayed.

Then “scrapping out” – the process of cutting, dismantling and moving the 500m of old track to be replaced took three hours longer than planned. In part, this was due to the scale of the work involved. Although sufficient operators were on site for all the machines, the number required meant that not all of them had much experience of this particular type of work and it took them longer than anticipated to carry it out.

This wasn’t, however, the major problem. That was the plant equipment – most particularly the log grabs and RRVs brought in to operate them. The fact that these represented a potential critical risk to the success of the possession was something that Network Rail had obviously anticipated – this was why brand new log grabs had been sourced for the work. What nobody had realised, however, was that by doing this they weren’t lowering the risk of problems occuring, they were simply trading one risk for another. That second risk reared it’s ugly head almost immediately. The new log grabs had never been used on these particular, or indeed any, RRVs before and it soon became apparent that – for reasons as yet unclear – the fittings didn’t fully match. Throughout the rest of the work, the fittings between the RRVs and log grabs spewed hydraulic fluid at a prodigious rate, losing pressure and failing to work. The on-site fitter worked hard to try and solve the problem but ultimately a specialist had to be called in from off-site.

Scrapping out finally finished at 09:00 on Christmas Day. By then all of the above had conspired to eat through any contingency time already allowed for this stretch of work and beyond. The project was now running three hours behind.

The first decision point

It was now decision time for the project team. With scrapping out complete the next step in the work was to excavate out and replace the ballast and here they had two options. The first was to stick to the original plan, despite the fact that the project was already running late, and excavate out as much of the ballast as possible (down to a depth of about 30cm). Alternatively, they could go with the quicker option of simply “skimming” the ballast. Ultimately the difference between the two options was one of quality. The deeper the excavation, the longer the new junctions and track would last – potentially up to 25 years. Skimming would be quicker, but it would drastically shorten that lifespan, meaning the work would have to be repeated in perhaps just ten years.

This was, in effect, the point of no return for the project team. Once full excavation had begun they would not be able to switch to skimming later on if it became apparent they had made the wrong call. This is because doing so would leave the resulting track on an inconsistent foundation, increasing the risk of future issues or even a derailment.

Stick to the original plan and risk overrun or compromise on the work? In the end the decision was made to proceed. This was not just to avoid doing future work. It was also because the team knew that the plan actually allowed for up to four hours delay in completing the excavation stage of the work. This meant that, assuming nothing else went wrong, they could absorb the three hours of delay they had already inherited from the scrapping out phase in that. Indeed they were even hopeful of making some of that time up. Given that technically they were not yet officially over time they also decided not to officially declare an overrun at this point.

Hindsight, of course, is a wonderful thing. It would be easy to criticise the project team for failing to alter either the work or declare an overrun that Christmas morning. It would also be wrong. Contingency is built into projects for precisely this situation and, although the delays in scrapping out meant that they were now desperately short of it, with the information at hand, the team believed their overalls goals were still achievable, assuming nothing else went wrong.

Unfortunately, shortly after excavation phase began, something else did – although it would be many hours before those on site realised it.

The choreography begins to fail

As excavation work began, two trains full of scrap rails and sleepers due to leave the site were discovered to have been badly loaded. The scrap was not correctly positioned and correcting this took time. By the time those corrections had been made both trains’ drivers had now been on shift too long to be able to take them back to New Barnet where they were due to be emptied. Luckily (or at least so it seemed at the time) this had an easy solution. There were two more drivers on site – those waiting to take away the first two wagon trains to be filled with spoil from the excavation phase. These were “stepped forward” to take charge of the scrap trains instead.

Stepping drivers forward is not an unusual practice, and at the time it seemed like a reasonably risk-free solution to the problem. What no-one had considered, however, was the sheer scale of the Holloway worksite. Stepping every driver forward on a site nine miles long was not a time-free enterprise and each train movement added a little more delay to a project that had already lost most of its contingency. By 14:00hrs on Christmas Day what little contingency that remained had gone. Work was now officially six hours behind schedule (an hour over the total contingency which had been available).

The second decision point

At this point the decision on whether to declare an overrun or not was escalated to senior Network Rail, Amey and Alliance staff. They looked again at the delays which had occurred so far and the minor delays still accruing with every driver change and reached a decision. They would still not declare an overrun.

If the project team’s initial decision to continue with the work as planned first thing Christmas Day morning is understandable, it is harder to understand why the same conclusion was reached later in the day. The official report explains that this decision was based on the belief that there was just about enough contingency built into the Boxing Day work schedule to allow the time to be made up. But so far at every stage the ability of the available contingency to absorb the number of problems occurring had so far proven optimistic. It is also tricky to see how the possibility of further unanticipated effects did not make more of an impact on the decision making process, especially as one of those effects was now itself an ongoing problem – the continued need to step forward drivers. A problem that continued to leech time from the project and which was now a potential cause of further unanticipated problems itself.

And this, in effect, was exactly what happened later that night, finally removing any hope of handing the line back as planned on the Saturday.

The unanticipated happens

Train drivers are a finite resource. Not just because there are only so many people trained (and indeed employed) to do it, but also because, like lorry drivers, there are tightly regulated limits on how many hours it is safe for them to work in one shift.

The work underway at Holloway that Christmas was not the only piece of engineering work going on which required freight train drivers to move equipment, material and spoil. Indeed the scale of the engineering work originally planned throughout the country that weekend had actually had to be scaled back by Network Rail after they released that it would require more drivers than were available in the entire national supply. In the end, through careful timetabling and allocation, they’d worked out the maximum amount of work that could be carried out with the roughly 200 freight train drivers available to them and scheduled it in.

By now astute readers may have spotted the problem looming for those working at Holloway. For no one on site or at Network Rail had spotted that ultimately it didn’t matter how much contingency existed within the schedule for doing the physical work – that wasn’t what they were running out of. They were actually running out of drivers.

This was because the continued need to step drivers forward, and the time it took to do so, meant that their shift patterns and availability quickly fell out of sync with the needs of work site. The departure of spoil trains or even just train movements required to support the planned pace of the work were delayed because drivers were still being brought forward to drive them. Even if the original driver was available then sometimes the cascade of delays to movement and departure would mean they too now lacked sufficient hours to be able to complete their planned trips. As day turned to night the effect began to snowball, made even worse when one of the ballast wagons failed and could not be moved for several hours.

By the early hours of Boxing Day morning the situation had degenerated to the point where there was only one driver available on the whole work site to move the five trains to be found there.

Even now, however, there were delays in declaring an overrun, coming up with a new plan and informing all of the operational companies and teams that would be affected. This was because those on site had become so focused on trying to deal with the rapidly deteriorating driver situation that they had failed to keep Network Rail’s Tactical Control team in Peterborough and the LNE Route Control in York in the loop.

The penny finally drops

By 11:00 on Boxing Day they were officially 15 hours behind and it was clear that there was no chance of completing work on time. They were well beyond the point of no return. Still, it wasn’t until 13:00 on Boxing Day that both Tactical and Route Controls had been brought fully into the loop and informed of the extent of the overrun.

The question now was whether they would be able to hand back two lines on Saturday 27th December at all. Part of the problem was that engineering trains and the rail-mounted crane for rail panels were occupying two lines themselves. Here Network Rail were caught between a rock and a hard place – moving the trains would free up those two lines for passenger use again, but without the equipment and storage capacity for scrap and ballast they provided there was no chance at all of the work being completed until well into the following week, meaning significant disruption on Monday when commuters would be returning to work.


Track panel installation at Holloway

The idea was discussed, but discarded. It was decided that it wasn’t possible to hand back any lines at all on Saturday. Instead they would hand back two lines by 5:30 on Sunday 28th, a full 24 hours later than planned. Until then, there could be no trains into Kings Cross.

Some frantic timetabling

For the train operating companies (TOCs), who found out as Network Rail’s management began to disseminate the news, a full twenty four hour delay was disastrous. Whilst the holiday period is quieter than regular travel times – the very reason that it is used for work such as this – it has its own peaks and troughs. One of those peaks always comes on the 27th, as people across the country travel from relatives’ houses to their own or vice-versa. Indeed East Coast already had 36,714 tickets booked in advance, and 85 services planned into and out of Kings Cross. First Hull Trains and Grand Central were also expecting to run nine trains each with about 3,500 predicted passengers. Even combined, none of those matched GTR, who had 467 services scheduled with predicted loadings of at least the same level as East Coast.

It was here, with little time to determine a course of action, that another problem was discovered – for although contingency plans had been discussed between Network Rail and the TOCs for what should happen if there were delays to the handover, these had all assumed that any delay would be a case of hours, not days. They had collectively failed to come up with an operational contingency plan which specifically anticipated all four lines remaining closed for the whole of the 27th.

Kings Cross Alpha One

It was 20:00 before the TOCs were able to fully mobilize their own planners to look at specifics with Network Rail. Lacking options and needing to get the news out to prospective passengers as quickly as possible, in the end it was decided the only option was to adapt and implement a version of what is known as “Operational Kings Cross Alpha One” – the standard emergency plan used when a sudden blockage occurs to all lines into Kings Cross.

This plan will, at least subconsciously, be familiar to anyone who has found themselves travelling between the north, home counties and Kings Cross in times of disruption. Trains depart and arrive from the likes of Finsbury Park, Stevenage and Peterborough as appropriate, based on what’s available and where blockages lie. Indeed to a certain extent Network Rail and the TOCs were lucky that the problem had happened where it did, as Alpha One is an inherently flexible plan.

What it does require, however, is awareness and careful management of its potential bottlenecks, There is a reason, for example, that during intense disruption many trains terminate and start at Stevenage, about thirty miles north of London. It is a large station with multiple platforms, bi-directional junctions and a layout that is relatively friendly to large footfall, particularly when carefully managed. The disadvantage, of course, is that despite its proximity to the A1 and ample coach parking space for rail replacement services, it is obviously some distance from where many passengers are ultimately trying to go. Finsbury Park on the other hand is in London, on two Tube lines (the Victoria and Piccadilly) and within easy bus distance of more. Its layout, however, is far more restrictive and thus Alpha One calls for it to be used carefully, particularly when it comes to balancing long distance and local services which tend to have very different kinds of passenger whose needs and movement patterns are not always compatible.

The need to be careful with Finsbury Park was doubly true on the 27th, as a normal Alpha One assumed that a certain percentage of passengers would make use of other lines into London, but the aforementioned works underway on the West Coast and Midland Main Lines that weekend meant this simply wasn’t possible.

With little time to spare, Network Rail and the TOCs hastily agreed a modified Alpha One based on all of the above. In particular, conscious of the above problem, it was agreed that the frequent southbound and northbound GTR services would have near-exclusive use the bi-directional platform 4 at Finsbury Park, with long distance services using platform 5. This was critical to avoid overcrowding at the station, which due to the Christmas break would have little ability to call in additional staff if things became difficult to manage.

A plan of action now agreed, the news of the impending disruption was finally announced to press, the Transport Police, TfL and others at 17:10 on Boxing Day. Passengers were strongly advised not to travel if it was at all possible.

The snowball effect

As services began on the 27th it at first seemed like the hastily assembled contingency plan might hold together. By 10:00 over 100 GTR trains had already passed through platform 4 in both directions and services were only running with delays of about ten minutes. Suddenly, however, things began to fall apart.

The cause was the exact thing that those planning the timetable the night before had been worried about and had tried to avoid – mixing locals and long distance at Finsbury Park. The rush to assemble and effectively communicate the plan out had led to some elements of platform and path planning being left to local staff to determine, and in this process the instruction to keep platform 4 free of long distance services had been lost.

In fact, station staff at Finsbury Park and the Kings Cross signal box had agreed between each other that some long distance trains would also use platform 4 to arrive and depart. As the first of these services started to arrive after 10:00 the service pattern quickly fell apart. Platform 4 quickly became blocked with passengers unable to board or exit services and although the problem was soon spotted and corrected (indeed only four long distance trains would actually use platform 4 that morning) Finsbury Park’s restrictive layout meant overcrowding quickly snowballed from there. By 11:00 it had become so bad that staff were forced to seek the help of the British Transport Police to close the station, so that they could attempt to restore some order and put a passenger flow system in place. By 14:00 a one way system was finally operational and the crowds moving and, by 17:00 the queues had largely disappeared.

For many passengers, however, this came as small consolation – some had found themselves outside the station for two or more hours and, when finally able to travel, had little chance of getting a seat due to the reduced timetable the TOCs had been forced to run. The delay in deciding a replacement timetable the day before also robbed travellers of one other thing – accurate travel information. For whilst the general news of prospective delays had been broadcast, there had been insufficient time to get the fully updated timetable into Customer Information Systems. This meant that station and platform signage as well as National Rail’s apps and website were lacking information and not always up to date, further adding to the confusion.

Learning lessons

What then are the lessons to be learned from the failures at Holloway? The report’s own conclusions on the matter are as follows:

  1. The overall structure and content of project and operational contingency plans will be improved to ensure that minimising passenger disruption is at the very heart of our planning.
  2. Contractors will be required to test any new equipment in an off-the-railway environment before it is used on live railway work.
  3. Recognising the risks that are introduced at times of peak project delivery, such as Christmas and Easter, consideration will be given to moving more work away from these peak times.
  4. A review will be undertaken of Network Rail processes for communicating operational train service contingency plans to our own and other staff at short notice.
  5. Engineering train crew and contingency at times of peak work will be treated with the same level of nationwide cross-project scrutiny and planning as other resources in short supply, such as signal testers and overhead line engineers.
  6. Network Rail will work with industry colleagues to improve service recovery and to provide better information to passengers.

Given that the work will need to be repeated at Christmas 2015 to renew the other two tracks, it must be hoped that Network Rail successfully take those lessons on board.

jump to the end
There are 244 comments on this article
  1. alan blue mountains says:

    Very interesting did know of problems as a lurker but lacked a lot of details being other side of the world, still its not a total disaster if you learn from your experiences and a lot more work to come

  2. Doubting Terrapin says:

    It is SO tempting to lay blame, particularly from a political viewpoint. My own view as a now-retired rail worker is that money was placed ahead of operational need, and that ‘efficiency’ was pushed to the theoretical limit in planning, and beyond it in practice. ‘Twas so when I was on the railway too.

    ‘Kings Cross Alpha One’ has little option beside (in present track formations) Finsbury Park. Possibly a future contingency would look at Alexandra Palace, even with its poor links to trunk transport to/from elsewhere. How about alighting only at the Palace and boarding only at the Park?

    Each London terminus [every major city’s main station(s) in national practice] needs at least two resilient alternates in the event of closure, to cover short-term non-availability and longer-term disruption. London Underground took out a long time ago emergency reversers at Bank and Covent Garden for example, a decision to be deeply regretted. Non-used lands (and in the case of the Underground, tunnels) need to be re-utilised for emergency operations, which will cost money now but might save it in the long term.

    However, which infrastructure management is going to sanction those investments which may never realise their potential, and in a profit-and-cost driven industry?

  3. Ronnie MB says:

    Excellent analysis! Thank you.

  4. @JeffinLondon says:

    As in most operational ‘disasters’ this was caused not by one cock up, but by a rolling series of cock ups. And as usually happens communications, both internal and external, is the first to fail.

    Easy enough to fix next time around. Let’s hope.

  5. Steve L says:

    As someone who had a booking from Leeds to London on the 28th, I kept a careful eye on the situation once the overrun was made public.

    The way that the situation was presented to the media, and hence to the public, caused/exacerbated panic within the public. Dire warnings to people to not travel, and announcements that ticket restrictions had been lifted and there would be no seat reservations. So, of course, those who still had to travel on the 27th chose to get to Finsbury Park early and queue. Better to have told people to still travel as per their booking, with a reassurance that if they missed their booked train then then would be accommodated on another service.

    As soon as the overrun was made public, there was a clamour for information. There wasn’t any. #KingsCrossTrains was trending on Twitter, but for the whole of Boxing Day evening there was complete silence from the East Coast Twitter account, save for retweeting the three tweets from NRE that announced the problem. Surely someone could have been found to come in and handle this, or in this connected age they could even have done so from home, or even from a mobile phone?

    When I finally travelled on the 28th, my curiosity as to why the journey was scheduled to be significantly slower than normal was answered: all up trains were arriving into Finsbury Park on the Up Fast, then reversing onto the Down Fast, then travelling Up through Finsbury Park on the Down Fast! Afterwards I checked Carto Metro and was amazed to see that this was indeed the only way to get us onto that track! Carto Metro clearly shows how unsuitable the track layout at Finsbury Park is for the KX Alpha One contingency scenario – surely at some point the track layout at Finsbury Park should be enhanced to facilitate this contingency plan?

    The simultaneous work at Watford meant that EMT was not accepting East Coast tickets, Virgin had long been advising its own passengers to divert via EMT.

    Let us consider the cost of the overrun. Every East Coast passenger to/from King’s Cross on the 27th will have qualified for a 100% Delay Repay refund. The state of the service on the 28th meant that most passengers will have qualified for a 50% or a 100% refund.

    And as the article states, Christmas 2014 was only half the job, we have the same again to look forward to in 2015. Combined with the drop in fuel prices, I think that I might drive…

  6. Malcolm says:

    A very interesting article. I am impressed by the way you have put the “bare facts” from the NR report into a clear and readable context. It triggers many thoughts about what might have been done differently; I suppose the main one should be to remind managers in a crisis to bring in an optimism bias. When enough things have gone wrong early on to reduce contingency time close to zero, the rule should force people to assume that something else is sure to go wrong as well. Problems come in threes!

  7. Mark Townend says:

    Very informative, thanks. In looking at the traffic characteristics around Christmas compared to non holiday times, it’s peaks and troughs etc, it’s also worth noting there is likely to be a marked difference in the proportions of longer to shorter distance journeys attempted. Many of those travelling will be less frequent rail users too, perhaps using trains only occasionally for such long distance family visits. The share of pensioners and families with children and luggage may also be higher. Whilst these leisure travel groups may be accustomed to occasional extended journey times and bus substitutions at weekends, that is usually excellently planned and executed compared to the dangerous crowding, extended delays and lack of covered standing experienced in the rain by many waiting at Finsbury Park. From a railway industry PR point of view, the sheer number of inconvenienced occasional travellers from this event is a significant problem. So many people with appalling personal experiences of their only recent rail journey to recount to friends, families, colleagues, representatives etc, potential passengers who may be put off by the stories, or decision makers in business or government whose broad opinions of and policies towards the industry might be swayed.

    Major infrastructure such as junction pointwork is often test assembled prior to installation on site today to ensure everything fits and works and there are no missing parts, so it seems quite a major failing not to also do this with critical plant components such as the log grabs. Good to see a change in that respect recommended.

  8. Chris C says:

    Many thanks for this simple explanation of what happened. I did read the NR report when it came out but your summary is excellent.

    In the end I think NR took the right decision to do a full replacement of the ballast because if they hadn’t in Christmas 2024 there would be criticism that they should have done a proper job 10 years ago!

    It also shows how fragile our infrastructure in supporting schemes like this is. It looks like there are more than enough engineers, technicians and stone shovelers around but not enough trained engineering train drivers which proved to be the real pinch point.

    What I do think should happen though is for NR to provide a lot more information about what works it is actually doing in advance rather than just a generic ‘engineering works’ or even ‘major engineering works’. Sure many people won’t read it but the info would at least be out there in advance of the works. Maybe even some pre-works media – showing TV reports the work site and explaining what they are going to be doing etc might help.

    As for the operators they perhaps could have done some better planning of their own on ‘what if it all goes wrong?’ scenarios and alternatives e.g. as mentioned terminating at Peterborough or Stevenage. I’d rather know in advance that I might have to get a bus to London from either than at the last minute and if the trains do then run through that is a bonus. Yes it’s managing perceptions and expectations but at least people would know in advance that they could be on a bus replacement service for part of the way.

  9. Mark Townend says:

    @Steve L, 24 January 2015 at 13:07

    That trailing crossover just to the north of Finsbury Park platforms 2 & 3 is indeed the only connection between the up and down mains in the area. The next one north is at Wood Green South Jn (just south of Alexander Palace station) and going south there’s nothing until Copenhagen Junction (not relevant for the work going on in this case clearly!).

    I wonder if the Canonbury freight line might be used as a reversing siding for the Alpha One contingency plan. This would allow incoming trains to terminate and unload in one of the relief line platforms on the up side, then move on towards Cannonbury, stopping just short of the Canonbury tunnel entrance, returning to the down side of the station via Highbury Vale Junction and the diveunder. I believe the Canonbury line was once double track, so perhaps a second dead end track could be restored alongside the running line just as far as the tunnel mouth to effectively provide two reversing sidings for use in an emergency. With trains not all having to use platfrom 2 for the double reverse shunt you describe, there would be capacity to use it for conventional terminate and reverse to north movements. Distance from Highbury Vale Junction to Canonbury Tunnel mouth is approx 300m, enough to accommodate an intercity or full length suburban train, but signals are probably not in the ideal positions today.

  10. Theban says:

    Thanks for the best written article on LR IMO.

    Once again it leaves a very poor impression of Network Rail’s project management capabilities.

    It highlights that Christmas (or Easter) is the wrong time of year for such works. Far, far better to have gone for a summer closure advertised very well in advance and planned so that it didn’t coincide wth work on the WCML.

  11. Malcolm says:

    the article states ” it was agreed that the frequent southbound and northbound Thameslink services would have near-exclusive use the bi-directional platform 4 at Finsbury Park, with long distance services using platform 5″.

    I cannot reconcile this with the platform numbering shown on carto metro. Platforms 4 and 5 appear there to serve opposite sides of the same track. Can anyone shed light? I suspect carto metro may be wrong, or I’m misreading it…

  12. Snowy says:

    @ Theban

    Perhaps however don’t forget that the WCML works were themselves originally planned for a summer blockade but due to TOC/FOC/passenger/politicians etc complaints were rescheduled over multiple weekends instead. Poor NR can’t seem to win!

  13. Matthew Dickinson says:

    Carto Metro shows the old platform numbering. The old down island platform has been reinstated as Platforms 1 & 2. The platform labelled on Carto Metro as Platform 2 is now Platform 4.

  14. Bob_G says:

    @JeffinLondon 12:47 and @Malcolm 14:07

    For many years the international oil industry has used a ‘Rule of Three’ approach to identify potential failure paths. As a former safety professional I have several times personally advised senior management that an ‘unwanted event’ is looming, based on my interpretation of what to them appeared to be only minor glitches in otherwise normal operations. On one occasion I tried hard to persuade managers to stop an engineering operation so they could stand back and take stock, before making any decision about whether to carry on. This was not accepted because of the ‘pressure to finish the job’ and a perception that for them to call a halt would somehow call into question the professionalism of the very highly skilled engineers leading the work. One £10 million loss later, but thankfully no injuries, I had no more trouble in getting my point across. The events described in this article appear to provide good material for case study on ‘The Rule of Three’ – here’s a link that explains this all very well.,%20P%20Hudson,%20C%20vdGraaf.pdf

  15. Chris C says:

    Theban Christmas is the best time – there are two clear days with no services anyway so no passengers to disrupt.

    As for advertising closures well in advance I recall you said in the LB Blockade article words to the effect that no one reads the advance notice posters / information!

    And in the summer although there are less commuters there are far fewer during the christmas / new year period

    When ever the works take place people / services will be disrupted and it is a case of choosing the periods when the least number of passengers / services will be disrupted.

    And you still have the issue of there are only a limited number of engineering train drivers available. As well as only a certain number of hoists and rail carriers and stone laying equipment etc These are expensive pieces of kit and you need to use them as much as possible.

  16. John Bull says:

    Thanks for that link Bob_G. A really interesting read.

    I’ve always referred to this type of failure as the Kenny Rogers problem.

    “You’ve got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away…” etc.

  17. Miss Malaprop says:

    I think you mean ‘prodigious rate’, not prestigious.

    [Corrected. Thanks. PoP]

  18. Mark Townend says:

    Looking at the Sectional Appendix, Carto Metro is out of date showing previous numbers before the additional up side island was brought back into use, and all the platforms were renumbered:

    The up main platform is now #4, and looking at Steve L’s comment the intercities had to enter this and reverse back to the down main, followed by a second reversal into either 5 or 6 where loading and unloading was supposed to take place. Perhaps the idea of only unloading/loading suburban trains in #4 was based on the assumption that their dwell time would be significantly less than an intercity. Nevertheless, everything having to use this one line and crossover, whether actually docking there or elsewhere is a major bottleneck. Up Main platfrom 4 is not bidirectional in the sense of having through signalling in both directions, but it looks like it does have a signalled reversing move back to the north using the trailing crossover both I and Steve L mentioned.

  19. IslandDweller says:

    My experience is in other industries, but includes massive change programmes. Two things surprise me reading this (excellent and highly readable) analysis.
    (1) There seems no recognition of optimism bias – why did the management team repeatedly assume that they’d catch up, when at each turn they were slipping further from schedule.
    (2) More worryingly. Where were NR senior team during this? In the major change events I’ve been part if, there were pre arranged phone calls with the senior business sponsors every six hours during the implementation weekend – on those calls each team had to document where they were against the pre published plan. While the team on the ground haven’t filled themselves with glory, the (apparent) absence of any challenge and oversight at a senior level in NR is very worrying.

  20. Anonylon says:

    Nicely written. A shame, though, that the NR report left some stuff out it seems…

  21. timbeau says:

    What exactly is a log grab?

    The canonbury curve has been mentioned as a possible turnback siding, but it could have been used to access Liverpool Street (via the Graham Road curve) or Stratford as alternative termini. Consideration might also have been given to diverting diesel services at Peterborough to run via Ely to Liverpool Street. I appreciate route knowledge is an issue, but strengthening Anglia services over that route might have been possible instead.

    For commuter lines the holiday periods appear the most sensible to do this sort of work, but I would question whether it is so for longer-distance services, which see very heavy use at such times (look at the motorways, where road works are often SUSPENDED at such times). Given enough notice, a business meeting can be scheduled around any temporary closure: but you can’t easily postpone Christmas.

  22. Al__S says:

    Pedant corner: “Frequent southbound and northbound Thameslink services ” is a few years premature! They’re “Great Northern” services- matching up once more with the BR era “Great Northern Electrics” sign on the side of the station!

  23. Al__S says:

    “Consideration might also have been given to diverting diesel services at Peterborough to run via Ely to Liverpool Street. I appreciate route knowledge is an issue,”

    as far as I know, EC, GC & HT drivers have Cambridge as a diversionary route. GC and EC will be running via Cambridge this evening and tomorrow morning as part of planned engineering works. I don’t know though what the arrangements would be for terminating ECML diesels at Cambridge. Did GA become at all involved to strengthen their West Anglia services and try to make sure Cambridge-London (and vice versa) passengers went to Liverpool Street (don’t really want them on the Victoria line if at all possible!) or would that have been a complication too far in already complex emergency planning?

    Cambridge would seem an ideal place to send the diesels with three 240m+ and one 200m reversible platforms, plus a Class 180 can fit in platform 6 (not sure if 5 is long enough any more?). Clever work would see 1/2 and 7/8 used to provide cross-platform interchange.

  24. ngh says:

    Re Timbeau,

    Log Grab – mechanical excavator attachment originally designed to pick up sections of tree trunk and allow the trunk to be moved by the excavator, i.e. forest floor to trailer etc. Also works for picking up rail, sleepers etc. as was the intention in this case.

  25. Fandroid says:

    Great article JB. It’s terrific to have a well-written explanation that fills the gaps between uninformed media hype, organisational PR and jargonistic technical explanations.

    One obvious failure of management seems to have been the notion at 09.00 on Christmas Morning that they could “borrow” the contingency from the next stage of the work to make up for the lost time in the previous stages. A wonderfully optimistic idea that it’s really very tempting to use when you are up to your eyes in muck and bullets. Those following stages had their contingencies allocated specifically to allow for problems that arose within those stages. There is no inverse law of foul-ups that says that if you have already had problems, then the likelihood of more is reduced! Indeed, the earlier problems might indicate that something fundamental is lacking in the whole plan, and the chances of more problems is increased!

    As Bob_G has mentioned, that is exactly the right moment to take time out to coldly check and recheck that the next stage’s time contingency can be borrowed in this way. A proper in-depth discussion of what could go wrong in the following stages might well have identified the extreme sensitivity of driver availability. Also, if the crisis had been escalated, then a more senior manager might have been the person to insist on cool heads thinking all the issues through before proceeding.

  26. Fandroid says:

    The media response to the Kings X problems reminded strongly of the old joke about the 6 stages of a project:

    Search for the Guilty
    Punishment of the Innocent
    Rewarding those who took no part

  27. Doug K says:

    Some (not read them all) of the comments seem a little parochial
    af if Kings Cross is the only job going on. Have a read of the Rail Engineer to see how many projects are on the go (
    I am not a rail worker but I think those recommendations should have been implemented (and tested) long before the time Kings cross 2015 comes around.
    The article itself was very interesting. The Rail Engineer does tend to blow its own trumpet congratulating all concerned etc so I await with interest the Rail Engineers take on the cock up at Kings Cross!

  28. Ian Sergeant says:

    Because this was a Network Rail report (I suspect) it missed out what for me are the two key lessons learned regarding the recovery.

    1) There were insufficient trains running into Moorgate. A proper contingency plan would have had drivers on 12 hour standby to be able to run a peak service. If that needs other supporting staff – signallers for instance – the same logic should have applied. Yes, you would probably have had to pay them up front, but given the reputational damage, so what.

    2) It seems from what I have read that there were insufficient station staff at Finsbury Park to direct what would largely be people unfamiliar with the station layout, at least town-bound. Again, putting people on 12 hour standby would have remediated the situation considerably.

    I also like the idea of splitting the town-bound and country-bound pinchpoints. I would suggest that if you do this, it’s more likely that people coming from London know how to get to Ally Pally, so I would start all services from there, and terminate at Finsbury Park. Under those circumstances you need more staff at each location, but you can non-stop Finsbury Park southbound on the Moorgate services, and the two stations can probably cope with the numbers. For people actually wanting to exit at Finsbury Park, it’s walkable from Drayton Park. Of course, none of this works if you don’t have a peak service running into Moorgate.

  29. george says:

    Very good write-up, thank you. Though as my daughter lives near Finsbury Park, and I know the station’s murky underground staircases and sloping passenger tunnels well, I do remember hooting with disbelief when it was declared to be the emergency fall-back for King’s Cross. It’s barely fit to be its own emergency fall-back.

  30. Malcolm says:

    “Problems always come in threes”. It occurs to me that actually problems come in any number, according to a Poisson distribution, but the adage arises because it is typically when the third problem comes along that the occasion becomes memorable, and thus gets memorised in the form of an adage.

    With possibly no connection with the above, I wonder if Plan Alpha should be modified to terminate all trains from the north at Stevenage, and run a crush-loaded shuttle between there and Finsbury Park. That might simplify passenger handling at FP, and simplify the train operation. Just a thought from an armchair non-expert.

  31. Pedantic of Purley says:

    A much easier read that the original Network Rail report.

    Taking up Fandroid’s point about contingencies, the problems with the people on the ground declaring an overrun (or not when they should have) is well known. Whilst I can forgive almost everything else as bad luck or just overlooked and not fully understood and appreciated it is well known that you should NEVER allow the people on the ground to decide when to announce such things as they will inevitably adopt a Mr Micawber approach and hope and believe that “something will turn up” that will save the day.

    What should have happened is that for each period there should be fixed instructions detailing when, at the latest, an overrun MUST be declared e.g. If more than a hour behind schedule on Christmas Day (even accounting for all contingency time being used) then an overrun MUST be declared immediately.

    The point is that this should be calculated in advance in the calmness of a meeting of minds of the relevant people with appropriate knowledge (including how much advance warning is needed of an overrun for remedial measures to be able to be put into place) rather than have a stressed guy on the ground trying to make his best judgement based on inadequate information. For example, there could be later phases where it is well known that you have to allow a number of hours but there is a reasonable possibility (less than 50%) that it could be done in substantially less time. Or it could be that subsequent tasks are ones where there is virtually no chance of any possibility of any significant amount of time being clawed back.

    It is interesting to contrast the engineering works at King’s Cross with the ones at London Bridge/New Cross Gate. Before it took place I had a conversation I had with Thameslink’s Programme Director. Maybe not vertibam but this was the jist.

    Me: Where will you be spending Christmas?
    PD: At home with the family
    Me: What if something goes wrong?
    PD: I stay at home. If things are going wrong then having senior management on site generally does not help matters.
    Me: So you will have the day off then?
    PD: Far from it. I have access to feeds from various webcams on site. I will see exactly how well the work is progressing and will be comparing that with the schedule that I will have. I will be monitoring what is going on and making phone calls if necessary.

    One wonders if a few well-placed webcams on site at the King’s Cross works would have led to a not nearly so bad situation.

  32. timbeau says:

    @Ian Sergeant
    “it’s more likely that people coming from London know how to get to Ally Pally,”

    Well, without any GN electric service, I wouldn’t: and I think I know London’s public transport better than most. (It’s not on the Tube map, so for the general public you might as well expect people to make their own way to Doncaster)

    And I doubt local bus services (from where? Finsbury Park?) would cope anyway.

    After Christmas, many of the outgoing travellers would not be Londoners, but out-of-towners returning home from visiting family.

    Another off-the-wall idea, if you want to separate incoming and departing flows – run Finsbury Park (set down), then run Canonbury (reverse) – West Hampstead (reverse and pick up), and back to the ECML via Gospel Oak and the Harringay curve. You can get to West Hampstead on Tube and Thameslink services – maybe have all TL services call there for the duration. You may need to suspend the Overground service through West Hampstead to cope with layover times there, but needs must.
    And I know

  33. Bearded Spotter says:

    @Ian Sergeant ‘…so what.’: It’s not just the expense it’s quality of life for the people who operate the railway. there’s a world of difference between being off duty and on standby. particularly at ‘special’ times of year, with family plans and expectations to consider. Yes, that is also true for the paying passengers.

  34. Malcolm says:

    My immediate response to PoP’s conversation report is to wonder what the people actually in charge on the ground felt about PD’s position. In addition to the other questions running through their minds, were they expected to worry about whether to (a) phone PD, (b) leave him strictly out of the loop, or (c) expect a phone call from him?

    It seems to me a matter of “natural justice” that everyone involved should be in a clearly-understood state of “involved”, “on leave” or “on call”. If “on call” then they should (except in life-threatening situations) keep out unless called.

    But then I’ve never been a senior manager in anything.

  35. stevekeiretsu says:

    @Al__S “Did GA become at all involved to strengthen their West Anglia services and try to make sure Cambridge-London (and vice versa) passengers went to Liverpool Street (don’t really want them on the Victoria line if at all possible!)”

    Far from it. I had a ticket from St Neots to KX but went to Cambridge station instead to take a Liverpool St train, assuming this would be preferable both for myself and for the railway companies. At Cambridge I was firmly instructed that KX was operating 100% normally and I must board a KX train. Needless to say this ‘100% normal’ train departed late then sat outside Finsbury Park for half an hour.

  36. Ian Sergeant says:

    @Bearded Spotter

    it’s quality of life for the people who operate the railway

    But people who work in pubs and in department stores work through the Christmas period. It’s part of the job. The same applies here to the railway. It wouldn’t be every year. And before you ask, yes I did work myself, including New Year’s Day. I’ll take a break when it is less busy.

  37. Malcolm says:

    I suspect off-the-wall ideas like Cambridge or West Hampstead would fall at the first hurdle on driver route knowledge. But even if they didn’t, they would have had the unfortunate effect of spreading the misery over an even wider range of passengers. Like all the Overground users, for instance. Yet more bad publicity, yet more compensation claims. With what actually happened, the “only” people affected were would-be Kings Cross users. (With perhaps a bit of collateral damage on Moorgate services and Picc-Vic lines). That’s still a norful lot of victims, but not as many as it might have been.

    In total contradiction to the above, it occurred to me to wonder if they should have turned back the London-Cambridge trains at Royston, to force Cambridge and Kings Lynn passengers (in both directions) to use Liverpool Street trains. A fairly small impact on the total numbers at FP, but might have helped a tiny bit.

  38. Ian Sergeant says:

    Well, without any GN electric service, I wouldn’t
    Nor me, but that was exactly my point. There should have been a peak service running from Moorgate to north of the interim arrival and departure points.

  39. Whilst cross-overs and sidings have been eliminated in the last 20-30 years to reduce complexity, asset maintenance, and costs, an admirable goal in itself, this has had dreadful effects on resilience.

    Therefore a resilience standard needs to be developed, not just for construction works, but for accidents, stations and/or track shutdowns for unexpected repairs, &c we have recently seen at King’s Cross and London Bridge.

    I’m not a railway professional, but it seems that, given all the planned infrastructure works planned for the next 10+ years, that a comprehensive review of all possession works and Alpha One plans needs to be made so that adequate platform and siding use is planned out, and additional cross-over and siding needs are identified and invested in.

    Not having the Moorgate GN route open as an alternate route (& fallback plan) appears in retrospect to be another planning flaw. As well, this route is a another rail and tube network connection gap, as it is not full day, evening, & weekend service (which is fortunately being plugged in the near future), nor adequately publicised.

  40. Greg Tingey says:

    Where it says “google” in your aerial photo is the site of Holloway goods station & platforms.
    I took many B&W photos from there in 1962-3 of all sorts of interesting steam traction.
    No longer easily accessible more’s the pity!
    And – there were considerably more running lines then, too.

  41. Malcolm says:

    With all this suggestion of Moorgate maybe having a role to play in future KX-closure events, I’d be interested to know the ball-park figures for:
    1) How many pax per hour will be dumped (max) at Finsbury Park by turning round the maximum possible number of (would-have-been) KX terminators.
    2) How many pax per hour could be accommodated by the max possible service to Moorgate.
    3) How many pax per hour were accommodated by the service actually running on 27/12, or any “normal” service which might be running on a comparable day in the future.

    Any guesses? My guess is that answer (1) is so much greater than the other two answers that (even assuming the Moorgate trains arrived at FP with zero passengers from Bowes Park etc), they would not play much of a role at all.

  42. Theban says:


    I agree that Christmas might be suitable for suburban closures but not on main lines. The problem is that any overrun at Christmas impacts a very busy travel day and, as happened here, multiple parallel routes were unavailable for use because everything was squeezed into Christmas.

  43. timbeau says:

    “At Cambridge I was firmly instructed that KX was operating 100% normally and I must board a KX train.”

    Who gave you this misinformation? Platform staff? Booking office? Which company. Misinformation (when the real situation could have been ascertained quite easily by looking at the Internet) which causes you delay should entitle you to compensation like any other cause of delay. Complain to the operator (is it GA or GN who staff Cambridge?)
    Sadly, most companies see provision of information as a box-ticking exercise, and take little heed of whether the information they provide is the information you actually need. (If they cancel my train, I don’t need to know a long list of stations to which it would have gone – I need to know what alternatives are available to get to my destination)

  44. Richard says:

    You have the platform operation wrong. The idea was that incoming services would arrive on 4, unload, shunt to the north, shunt back into platform 5 and load. With a driver at each end this is all fairly efficient, and critically keeps the alighters and boarders separate. Narrow passageways are fine if you can set up a one-way pedestrian system.

    What happened was that to start with, they just used platform 4, which avoids the double-shunt (and the need for a second driver) and is fine when you don’t have so many people. But is absolute chaos when the numbers pick up. It took them a couple of hours to sort out the chaos and do it as planned.

    While it would be easy to blame the station team, they probably aren’t operational experts. Someone should have warned them not to mess with the platform plan.

  45. GTR Driver says:

    Regarding talk of drivers on 12 hour standby on 27 December, what makes anyone think there wasn’t a full complement of drivers anyway? It was a Saturday, that’s a normal rostered day with no concessions to the time of year. A lack of available trains in the right place or able to get to the right place or no services to Moorgate is another matter entirely. But likely every mess room was full of drivers unable to work! The only days when no one is rostered are Christmas and Boxing Day.

  46. Cody says:

    Those lessons learned at the end sound like management speak to me. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn those are the rules already but they aren’t applied because management doesn’t want them to be.

    So for any project ever they are going to get a dedicated section to bring in and test the equipment? Yeah let’s see how long that lasts. It’s adding even more bureaucracy to a machine that bureaucracy failed to manage.

  47. Mark Townend says:

    @Richard, 25 January 2015 at 00:45

    Thanks for your explanation. The down side shunt could set back into either platform 5 or 6/7 for the loading, the two lines operating in parallel so two trains could board at once. I can see the temptation to try and get a train heading back north as soon as possible by loading in 4.

    The system you describe together with outer suburban services terminating in 1 and 2/3 then reversing via the Canonbury link and running back via the divunder to 8 for northbound departure could increase total throughput and spread people more evenly across all of the platforms.

  48. Ian Sergeant says:

    @GTR Driver

    I’m not suggesting for a minute that anyone wasn’t at work who should have been. What I am suggesting is that a peak service should have been run to Moorgate by having drivers on standby. This assumes that trains are left in the right places to allow this to happen as a contingency.

  49. Andrew L-A says:

    It seems to me one option when handling works around shutdowns is to restrict the number of tickets sold for immediately after the shutdown so that there are fewer people you need to accommodate if there is an overrun.

  50. ASLEF shrugged says:

    Ian Sergeant – there’s no such thing as “stand-by” on the railways, either you’re working a given shift or you are on a Rest Day. A shift can be a “running” turn or “spare” but I doubt if there are enough spares on a Saturday to expand the service significantly. On the Tube any change to your shift has to be made at least 48 hours in advance, I’d imagine that Great Northern have something similar.

    The problem at Finsbury Park doesn’t seem to have been a lack of staff but rather deciding to use Plat 4 for arrivals and departures for the long distance trains. It was only after that the problem of overcrowding developed and the station had to be closed but as with train drivers there probably wouldn’t have been any more “spare” staff available, everyone would have either been working or on a RD.

  51. alan blue mountains says:

    On reflection I do feel for staff on duty particularly at Finsbury Park who I am sure were overwhelmed and no doubt abused by some for what was largely not their fault. Having reread the posting I think is better than I first thought, congradulations on a simple but very insisive piece

  52. Lemmo says:

    Great article JB, and an interesting discussion as always.

    I’m with Long Branch Mike on the need for the railway to reassess and design for resilience, as distinct from efficiency. This will become more paramount as the network is pushed to its capacity limits, and this episode is a symptom of this.

    Finsbury Park is a very good choice as a contingency terminus for an Alpha One situation. It has options for grade-separated train reversal, the layout allows for cross-platform interchange with doors opening both sides, and it is very well-connected to other routes. That diversity of interchange options itself improves resilience.

    Sadly the station itself is woeful and not fit for purpose. It is a dreadful station to use, and keeps falling down TfL’s priority list for investment… actually, it just keeps falling down. It needs a complete rebuild, which should largely be a Network Rail responsibility in building for network resilience.

    If you are serious about an Alpha One response then your infrastructure needs to have the capacity to provide it. Other than the station itself, one trailing crossover (#25 on Mark Townend’s diagram) at the north end of the station is clearly inadequate. For both redundancy and more efficient reversals you also need a trailing crossover at the south end, so that trains can run beyond and reverse, while the next train pulls in from the north.

    Finsbury Park was was once a major traffic hub with movements overseen by nine signal boxes, and with underpasses/flyovers to grade-separate the routes. This infrastructure can be used again now to create a more resilient interchange for Alpha One contingencies.

    There are two grade-separated reversal options, both using the underpass beneath the mainlines which now carry the Down Moorgate and Down Canonbury tracks. This underpass used to have four tracks, and the route rises northwards to join any of the Down Slow lines:

    Option 1: Via the Canonbury route (see Carto Metro); the original layout provided for this but today’s longer trains may entail reversal within Canonbury Tunnel, perhaps not ideal.

    Option 2: Via Holloway, using the erstwhile Up Carriage line which rose from the Canonbury/Moorgate underpass beneath the mainlines. Originally known as the “creep up”, this could become a Down reversal line for contingencies. The alignment still exists, overgrown with the Emirates stadium looming alongside.

    So, three improved reversal options, on a mainline close to capacity, using a contingency interchange that is crying out for a rebuild. Seems a no-brainer to me.

    Perhaps Mark Townend can knock up a quick diagram…

  53. Guano says:

    I thought that in the past, when Finsbury Park was used as a terminal (planned in advance), trains reversed by running forward to somewhere near Drayton Park then standing and turning there. Did this not happen on 27th December? Could it have happened?

  54. Malcolm says:

    Some of the above discussion seems to forget that, as well as reversing every train which would have otherwise gone to Kings Cross, Finsbury Park had to also serve the local trains to Moorgate (I assume some were running), and also the engineering trains working between Holloway and New Barnet (essential for ensuring Kings Cross could re-open the next day.

  55. Adrian says:

    There has been valid criticism of the over-optimistic approach to crisis management, but some of that blame should also fall on the overrun measurement.

    It appears that although overrun was counted in terms of targets met / time taken, the actions taken – such as driver reallocation – were storing up further problems. These later used up the contingency of other stages, yet was already known (if not acknowledged).

    Calculations of contingency use need to take into account not just catching up earlier overruns, but changes in work rate that are still active. This might have shown that the catch-up plan was not merely too optimistic in assuming there would be no further problems, but had already already overrun the next stage’s contingency.

  56. Greg Tingey says:

    When the SR replaced all the points at Cannon St for electrification in 1926 ..
    They set up the whole thing near new Cross Gate goods, for practice.
    The re-assembled it at CX -complete closure: 5/06/1926 – 28/6/26 – or so says Alan A Jackson in “London’s Termini”

  57. Anonymous says:

    A couple of general points, most people now live in a world where they don’t need to ‘do’ anything, the car works, documents auto correct, washing machines, dish washers and so on, the problem is people then assume that the same rule applies to everything else – they are the ‘Margo Leadbetter’s’ of society, assuming any job requiring manual labour takes 5 minutes.

    Rail jobs are a variation on building jobs, where there is a requirement to ‘do’ something, although you can have all the labour equipment there is available, each job, although having common DNA, will through up odd problems.

    Having ‘brand new’ log grabs is interesting – if you went to your car and found it replaced with a brand new one, no doubt there may be some adjustment time while you found out what the steering and brakes were like – and what any new buttons do and so on, (like a new TV remote), I wonder how much familiarity the fitter had with the ‘brand new’ equipment too.

    Hopefully at some point the line between Ely and Peterborough will be electrified, long distance passengers can then have an alternative route into London, I’m not sure if the track layout at Stanstead would allow you to run a Liverpool Street – Stanstead Airport (reverse) – Cambridge – Ely – March – Peterborough service.

  58. lmm says:

    @Malcolm I don’t know numbers, but in the (weekday) morning peak Finsbury Park – Moorgate runs a 6-car train every 5 minutes. (And since these are suburban services laid out with standing room I’d expect more passengers per car than the long-distance trains). Probably not enough room everyone who would be coming into Kings Cross, but I’d expect it to be an appreciable fraction.

  59. Malcolm says:

    Of course railways should design for resilience, but this is already done – if it weren’t there would be no crossover whatever at Finsbury Park. The tricky question is just how much extra spending (on maintenance etc) is justified in the name of resilience. (And of course any just-in-case feature can occasionally fail itself and cause a problem instead of helping to fix one).

    Regarding Finsbury Park and the event under discussion; a crossover further south could well have made things easier, as Lemmo explains. But for the purpose of reversing trains on the fast tracks (in the centre), which was what was needed this time, there is no need whatever for grade separation, because reversing trains are not crossing the path of anything. Use of the Canonbury route, apart from any other difficulties, would have made the reversing trains cross the paths of all the Moorgate trains and all the engineering trains.

    Of course, the next emergency will be different, but sadly we do not know exactly how.

  60. GTR Driver says:

    Ian, just to follow on from what ASLEF Shrugged said, you could think of Spare turns as rostered standbys (though spares are also there to cover planned absences such as annual leave cover). Given the already reduced service operating that day there possibly would have been enough spares to operate Moorgate services at short notice. But a)would there be trains available and b)someone higher up has to make that decision. Also if the branch was closed, who would open and man the stations? I know it always seems that railway people are making excuses, but there is so much more to get a train running than the public realise – and despite a few years as a driver, that still includes me!

    Anonymous @10.43, I think you have it spot on there. I was an office 9-5er before, and most work was done and many problems solved by a few clicks of a mouse. As we move increasingly to a tech dominated white collar work environment, people don’t realise that there are problems that require physical work that takes as long as it takes and sometimes it takes longer! I always think of working a DOO train to find that the last set of doors on a ten coach train won’t close. Aside from the communication I now have to do to keep the TOC and NR happy first, I have to then walk 200 metres to hopefully sort it and 200 metres back, usually explaining what I’m doing to lots of people that I’ve already made a PA announcement to and asking people with headphones in if they could let me pass please. That walk alone is a fixed minimum time and it potentially results in two or three trains building up behind in the peak and almost certainly a lost slot ahead. On a busy railway it’s the classic pebble in a pond ripple effect.

  61. Xerces Fobe says:

    At last the truth is out poor and ineffective planning, abysmal project management with scant regard for contingency planning. The people on the ground were doing their best however Network Rail senior management has weaknesses as was seen in some of the media interviews over the Christmas period.

    The issue is that unlike British Rail days Network Rail does not have full control and relies on complex relationships with other companies which in themselves have varying levels of competence!

    The whole structure of railway network infrasrteucture maintenance needs reviewed with the DFT being made fit for purpose too at the same time. I fear that nothing of substance will really happen and we will revisit these sort of failures time and time again unless the senior management in Network s replaced with people with the necessary skills and experience to manage and successfully deliver large scale projects of this kind!

  62. John Bull says:

    Quick Administrator Message

    Apologies to anyone who finds this page loads slowly at the moment. This article is pulling an awful lot of traffic from Twitter and elsewhere right now of an order of magnitude greater than what we normally get on the site.

    I’ve rolled out our own contingency plan and scaled up our server infrastructure for now, but you may still experience some delays!

  63. Mark Townend says:

    @Lemmo, 25 January 2015 at 09:53

    ElectroCrayons (TM) coming out on Tuesday. A little question to all – Are there any plans to reinstate the westernmost island, remains of which lie out of use on the down side, between the DG and the Platfrom 8 line? That could could handy for stacking trains waiting to depart whilst loading, or rather if slow passenger traffic from Moorgate or reversing via the Canonbury link could be moved over to the outermost track, there could be more capacity for reversing fast traffic in the middle part of the station . On the Canonbury line there is about 220m between the Highbury Vale Junction signal and the tunnel mouth, but the signal could be moved some 60m closer to the junction, from out in the open currently to under the Emirates stadium south footbridge to accommodate a full length train outside the tunnel (or perhaps with the one end only just inside, which might be acceptable given there is only a single track in a former double track tunnel).

  64. Anomnibus says:

    @Xerces Fobe:

    You appear to have the usual rose-tinted view of British Rail’s track record. They were no better or worse at this than anyone else. This was essentially a big construction project with very complicated logistics and tight timescales. Such projects do not always finish on time and on budget, no matter how much we’d like them to.

    What happened was a classic “failure cascade”: one problem led to another, which caused yet another… and soon all your project managers and site managers are spending most of their time running around dealing with superficially minor problems instead of focusing on the big picture. The cascade of failures itself becomes the biggest problem as managers are diverted away from their core tasks by an ever-increasing series of ‘fires’ they have to help put out.

    The report is a good thing. It identified the problems and gave solid recommendations to avoid them in future.

    “The issue is that unlike British Rail days Network Rail does not have full control and relies on complex relationships with other companies which in themselves have varying levels of competence!”

    I hate to break this to you, but British Rail never had “full control” either. They, too, relied on contractors and sub-contractors. Hell, some of the major British construction firms, like Laing, Mowlem, and McAlpine, literally built the country’s railways in the first place.

    When Euston station was rebuilt in the 1960s, the vans and cranes you saw on the site didn’t have the BR “Arrows of Indecision” logo stamped on them: the work was done by Taylor Woodrow Construction.

  65. EMoon says:

    In any situation with the potential to go down the tubes, the earlier you admit the problem, the more chance you have to avoid the worst. We all want to be the hero who succeeds in spite of every difficulty–but when working a project that affects other people, it’s better to say “We have a problem; if we get another one we’ll blow the deadline (or whatever) “–someone else may have a workaround you haven’t thought of, and at least can adjust their end of things to work better for them.

    In general, the more urgent a situation seems, the more humans have a tendency to butt their heads against stone walls. Hurry can then become the enemy of success, as crucial elements get overlooked when people are rushed and feel harried. Elements of this are strikingly similar to the complex of decisions that resulted in the sinking of the sailing ship Bounty in Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

    When someone argues that building resilience into a system is too costly, they often do so without considering the true cost of no resilience. My mother, a liaison engineer for the Army in an aircraft plant during WWII, had many pithy sayings from that time about the value of spending time/effort/money on redundancy and resilience in systems, that all boil down to “When you need it, you *really* need it, and it’s lives at stake when you don’t have it.”

    When trains can’t get through and people transfer to road travel, this increases their risk of injury and fatality from road accidents: trains are safer than driving. When they *believe* trains won’t get through (e.g., next year) and take to the roads, lives will be lost. Lives have a monetary cost as well as a social one: earnings lost to families, the cost of hiring and training someone to fill that person’s place in their job site, the loss to society of whatever voluntary work they did or donations they made, etc. That’s a cost of lack of resiliency with at least a one-year tail in this instance…and probably will not be accounted to the lack of rail resiliency, as it should be. Skimping on resiliency is like building a house with thin lumber spaced too far apart…it will fail sooner, and more often, and cost more in the long run to fix, besides not providing adequate shelter even before failure. False economy.

  66. Malcolm says:

    EMoon is right to remind us of parts of the cost of the debacle which may not have been considered.

    However, the argument for resilience is fighting a straw man; in the sense that no-one, here or elsewhere, is ever arguing for no resilience. The difficulty is knowing just how much resilience to build in, and where. It all costs money in the end, and we cannot afford too much resilience. It is frequently argued on this forum that more crossovers and such should be provided, here there and everywhere. Such an argument is a respectable one, but shortly after a debacle of this kind may not be the right moment for a cool evaluation of it.

  67. Anonymous says:

    It’s good to see more contrition on here about this Finsbury Park shambles. On the London Bridge thread there are lots of comments mocking politicians and how “unfair” to professional railway workers the criticism of Network Rail was, given that 198 out of 200 projects were successful or something.

  68. Mark Townend says:

    @Malcolm, 25 January 2015 at 16:07

    Indeed. In addition to their capital cost to provide in the first place, rarely used redundant facilities added for resilience can affect the reliability of the more commonly used parts of the network too. Extra turnouts in a signal route are additional failure points that have to be maintained, and each adds to the likelyhood of a fault preventing signal clearance.

  69. John Bull says:

    Just to throw this into the mix – in discussion of this article elsewhere the concept of The Thermocline of Truth has been mentioned.

    It’s an interesting concept, and one that does seem as relevant to the rail industry as the software one.

  70. Al__S says:

    @Mark Townend: you make a good point about “resilience” infrastructure being a potential point of failure itself, but then at Finsbury Park what other use is the crossover to the north of the station? Overall resilience might potentially be improved if the crossover was to the south of the station instead, with plain line to the north?

    As a layout, Finsbury Park is a bit of a mess from deep tube to mainline level, as are Harringay and Hornsey stations. But the crayons are probably best left in their box.

  71. @Malcolm et al

    That’s my point, that the current resilience infrastructure is insufficient, and will be insufficient for as long as the railway network needs to be expanded for increasing ridership and population increases, as so well stated in Jonathan Roberts’ series on London 2050.

    What additional resiliency infrastructure needs to be added I cannot say, but should be part of an expanded benefit-cost analysis, with knock-on effects of network failures (as we’ve recently experienced) given increased weight (and costs).

  72. Malcolm says:

    Al__S says “Overall resilience might potentially be improved if the crossover was to the south of the station instead, with plain line to the north?”

    Provided of course that the blockage is to the south.

    Which reminds me of the saying that generals are usually fighting the last war. What we need is resilience against an unknown problem, which could be the same as last time, but more probably won’t.

  73. Malcolm says:

    The relevance (or not) of the Thermocline of Truth depends on whether one or more people lower down the management chain are able and willing to say that they, or colleagues at their level, foresaw the overrun earlier than top management did. It is entirely possible that they did, but it is also possible that nobody foresaw it.

    Of course we all now feel that is should have been foreseen, but that is rather a different matter. Was the truth totally unapparent at the time, or just unapparent at the top?

  74. Greg Tingey says:

    Because of the penny-pinching, resulting in a single-track tunnel approach to Stansted Airport

  75. Ian Sergeant says:

    Let me make a clarification of what I said earlier. Attempting to stand someone up at no notice doesn’t work regardless of what industry you are in. The point AslefShrugged makes about 48 hours notice is not what I am talking about – I’m talking about putting people on standby for business continuity six months in advance, or whenever the event was planned. If there is no such thing as standby on the railway, and you are either paid or not paid, so be it – you treat the workers with respect, and pay them. You have all the people you need ready to work should they be needed, and pay them for it regardless. So if the Saturday requirement is a morning peak service, that’s what you create, and you hope you don’t need it.

    As for Malcolm’s question as to whether a service from Finsbury Park to Moorgate could shift the people, I don’t see why not. The capacity of a 225 is 525 people. The capacity of a 6-car 313 is 462, and you can run 12tph to Moorgate. On a Saturday that would move a large proportion of the people coming in and out of Finsbury Park.

    I agree a lot of the issue was caused by people based locally overriding the business continuity plan. However, I still think you need extra station staff to direct lost people to the appropriate place. I would hope that guidance from the guards on the long distance routes would reduce the number of lost people. Yes, there is training required for some. Many will know what advice to give, as do many of us.

    Final point – all business continuity plans need to be tested regularly. Make a point of doing so once a year.

  76. Anomnibus says:

    @Ian Sargeant:

    There’s a small problem with the Moorgate solution: Moorgate is a poor interchange station, with no step-free access from those low-level platforms. King’s Cross has step-free access now throughout between the mainline platforms and the Tube below. Moorgate does not.

    We’re talking about post-Christmas travel here, which skews towards longer-distance journeys, often including luggage, pushchairs, and so on. Moorgate is a commuter station and would become just as dangerously overcrowded as Finsbury Park. While the latter did mean exposing people to the bad weather outside for a while, this is vastly preferable to having heaving crowds of people on the Circle Line platforms awaiting access to the low-level platforms below. After all, other people are using the Tube too; not just folks from up north.

    Network rail had 2000 work sites for 300 projects on the go over Christmas. Of those 300 projects, only this one seems to have run into problems, to the extent that the media took notice of it. That’s better than a 99% success rate, so while Network Rail do have lessons to learn on the communications front, there is precisely zero evidence whatsoever to suggest that their project management people are nothing less than excellent.

  77. Slugabed says:

    Although the trains would go to Moorgate,I suspect that most of the passengers so diverted would use the cross-platform interchange at Highbury & Islington onto the Victoria Line (which many…most?…would have been heading for anyway,had the trains been going to King’s X).

  78. Westfiver says:

    If you want to read further discussion on the event of 26/27 Dec can I suggest you read the discussion on the Rail Forum:

    ECML Disruption – Saturday 27th December –

    Under the initial plan for the 27th/28th Great Northern were due to terminate the majority of their services at Finsbury Park, and operate Welwyn GC/Hertford North services to/from Moorgate – only a few services would have gone into Kings Cross. Only a total of 4 tph could operate into Kings Cross. Reading the above thread it appeared the Moorgate services went belly-up, and the other services did no run to plan either.

  79. Lemmo says:

    @ Malcolm, of course you don’t need grade-separation if the are no crossing movements, but an Alpha One contingency plan is unworkable if all trains had to reverse using the one crossover on the central Fast lines. All I was trying to do was give some historical context to show what infrastructure used to be there, and how the alignment still exists to allow all ECML services to reverse at Finsbury Park if need be.

    Reinstating a link from Holloway down to the underpass lines is a relatively modest investment, and many people would not even know that the “creep up” existed.

    @ Mark Townend, look forward to the ElectroCrayons (TM). I have no idea whether there are plans to reinstate the westernmost island platform At Finsbury Park, which presumably would become Pl 9 & 10. Given that the station needs a rebuild anyway I can’t see why they wouldn’t reinstate. Another reason is that it may be easier reinstating 9 & 10 rather than lengthening 7 & 8 across the road bridges for longer trains.

    In terms of reversing on the Canonbury branch, other than the amount of room available, there is still limited capacity to reverse all the Slow line trains here. As others have suggested, some could use the Moorgate branch to provide cross-platform interchange at Highbury and Islington, and/or a new reversing connection could be provided from Holloway.

  80. Theban says:


    That 99% success rate is a disingenuous figure. Projects come in a variety of complexities – lets just say simple, middling and complex. There’s also a range of impacts from trivial right up to a project which makes the national news if it goes wrong.

    Most organisations can get simple projects rights – they usually mange themselves – which is the vast majority. Problems inevitably are more likely on complex or large projects. It’s seen a lot in IT. Organisations can manage replacing printers with no difficulty but can come badly unstuck if they attempt software development.

    I do see big project management failures here. The project risk register should have included the risk. “Work isn’t finished on time and we cannot hand lines back as planned.” That’s really basic project management yet John’s article is clear that no thought had gone into that eventuality.

  81. Anonymous says:

    I was in Leeds in the later afternoon trying to get a train to Finsbury Park with my two young children – it was chaos. The train we were booked to get was suddenly cancelled at the last minute – leaving my family on the platform for a hour – on a packed platform. We were told they (“East Coast”) didn’t have enough staff to run the train down to London. We were then told that the next train would have no reservations – which is extremely stressful when you have a family with young children. There were people there with elderly relatives freaking out. When the train arrived I moved to front and managed to get in a carriage first and secure seats for me and my children. I didn’t like doing this – but when you have kids who are 2-4 years old – the thought of them not having a seat for hours AND being stuck outside Finsbury Park for hours who quite scary. There were also people waiting on the platform for elderly relatives who had been stuck on trains for hours.

    In my head I went through several options – like why can’t they have a shuttle service from Peterborough to Liverpool Street (thus then not having to rely on “East Coast” drivers having route knowledge?). But its all so fragmented isn’t it? No-one has overall control over anything. NR can’t tell the private train companies what to do, and government ministers don’t intervene (I would if I was one) and say “is this possible?”. Its all about money, there’s no slack in the system so when the certain thing hits the fan, its ordinary people who get stranded and abandoned for hours.

    Having said all this, the frontline staff at Leeds were very helpful. Our train was lucky – we got straight to Leeds and only had to wait 20 mins or so to get out of the station.

  82. The Other Paul says:

    why did the management team repeatedly assume that they’d catch up

    I’d say this might be an example of a classic “death march” project – it’s going to end badly, everyone working on it knows that, but anyone speaking up is castigated for being “negative” and told to get on with it.

    It’s prevalent in IT projects where management decide that pure belief and optimism can overcome their own incompetence along with the laws of physics.

  83. @Malcolm

    “What we need is resilience against an unknown problem, which could be the same as last time, but more probably won’t.”

    I would respond that the problem is known, ie the lack of slack capacity, sidings storage, cross-overs, but that the level, numbers, and locations to provide them at are the unknowns (the Rumsfeldian Known Unknowns, vs the Unknown Unknowns that you are indicating).

    Another point to elaborate on is that the number and complexity of these infrastructure possessions is increasing over time, as stations need expanding for more passenger capacity, rail, ballast, and sidings get built and replaced, new lines (such as Crossrail 1 and possibly 2) are integrated into the rail network, &c.

    Calculating the actual need for such slack and resiliency will be a complex calculation, but there are sophisticated planning and transport modeling tools available.

  84. Graham Feakins says:

    @The Other Paul: “where management decide that pure belief and optimism can overcome their own incompetence along with the laws of physics”

    I think that you might have politely excluded that marvellous ability to apply “common sense” for those who enjoy that capability, including which there are many commentators here (of course).

    However, should a tad of that be applied to many another comment recently on other LR articles and indeed to some of those parties at least discussed in the articles themselves, then I’m sure that we might get somewhere. But in whom do we trust? In my day, it was those with experience – that means some with long-term experience with the required level of common sense – but now we are told that the new ones from outside the industry can bring a new and improved order into things. Yes indeed, I say, and just look at the result. Untried equipment at King’s Cross, for example for major tasks; JB’s explanation of and others’ use of the term “log grabs” says a lot. Experience tells me that there were rail lifters (“grabs” if you prefer); sleeper lifters; ballast cleaners, diggers, layers and so forth for generations – but never a “log grabber”. Doesn’t that ring any common sense alarm bells anyway?

    As it is now admitted, the log grabbers had been untried in the first place on the railway, whilst the ‘trial’ at King’s Cross resulted in basic mechanical engineering failure of hydraulic fluid squirting out. Hardly robust and what a place and time to test it all out in practice!

    So, where was I? Who is/are the one(s) lacking that essential common sense ingredient?

  85. Savoy Circus says:

    Despite the various failures of common sense in execution it seems that this would not have attracted much attention and done the reputational damage that it has to the rail industry if the agreed operating protocols at Finsbury Park station had been adhered to

  86. Bob Cartwright says:

    Driver, Semi retired, (52 yrs service).
    Whilst the affected area is not my patch I have some knowledge of it. When I first heard of the problems I thought,”I bet driver shortage features in there somewhere”. The large freight companies opted for a ‘Yearly hours contract’ with their drivers. As far as I know these are still in place and mean that if a driver works overtime during the year and amasses enough hours he can then, for instance, be unavailable for work over the Christmas period. I am aware, through contact with former colleagues and aquaintances that much work over the Christmas period was cancelled through driver shortage, probably for just this reason.
    For much of my time on the footplate with the nationalised system the more senior drivers could ‘Go anywhere, do anything’ freight or passenger. This is not now the case and, to my mind, the job is, in real terms, overmaned and overmanaged. Driver morale in the larger freight companies is not high.
    I have also become aware, on recently returning to engineering type work, of the dangers and problems associated with some inexperienced contract workers. Engineering sites and degraded working have always been source of problems and nothing has changed there.
    I can already hear the rumblings from the pro-privatisation voices but with 52 years of dedicated railway service at the sharp end behind me I think I can see the root cause of many of the problems
    brought in by privatisation.

  87. Greg Tingey says:

    The other paul
    Also known as “shooting the messenger” – I’ve been on the receiving end of that, more than once, what a surprise.
    Also seen in the NHS – gagging contracts & silencing the voices of “oh, but wait a minute” ….

    It’s back to Gerry Feinnes again, isn’t it?
    From “I tried to run a Railway”: …

    GF: “Anything about that’s late?”
    Announcer: Yes sir, the Yorkshire Pullman just passed Finsbury Park, 53 late
    GF: Why?
    She went into a string of engine failures on a preceding train … & so on.
    I told he what to say.
    A: “I can’t put that over”
    GF: Yes you can”
    A: “Sir, it’s as much as my job’s worth” ( Yes, it’s in the book! )
    GF: “All right, clear out of the seat & I will”
    The Pullman ran in, I gave it a minute. The I said smoothly:
    “We regret the delay to the Yorkshore Pullman. It was due to bad management”

    THAT is the way to do it – isn’t it?

  88. Mark Townend says:

    @Lemmo, 25 January 2015 at 21:06

    The ‘creep up’ is clearly visible on this 1953 1:1250 OS map courtesy of the National Library of Scotland.

  89. timbeau says:

    @Anomnibus 1954
    “We’re talking about post-Christmas travel here, which skews towards longer-distance journeys, often including luggage, pushchairs, and so on.”

    ………..not to mention that pushchairs implies supernumery passengers, (such as Anonymous 2354’s under-fives), who don’t show up on the passenger statistics as they don’t need to pay a fare or even, unlike on airlines, need to have a ticket, but nevertheless add to the number of people in the crowds.

  90. Anomnibus says:


    You do know there’s a perfectly good Victoria Line station at Finsbury Park, right? Why would someone get off a train, cross to another platform, then get on another train, only to then change trains yet again just a few stops later? Unless you were on a Moorgate service to begin with, there’s no benefit in doing this.


    Thanks, I’m well acquainted with the IT sector. That’s why I was stressing the fact that nobody worth a damn is going to claim a 100% success rate. Yes, Captain Cockup came calling on this one specific occasion, but it appears to have been due to a number of communication errors. Note that Network Rail went for brand new equipment specifically to avoid reliability problems.

    The failure cascade here isn’t particularly complicated: the log-grab attachments weren’t compatible with the machines hired for the purpose. Attempts to make them work properly failed, to the extent that an expert engineer had to be brought in to sort it out. By the time they’d got the work done, driver schedules were out of alignment and that’s when the plane fell out of the sky.

    The people on the site would have been mostly engineers, not people with much experience in staff logistics and employment contract law. This was (as is so often the case) a failure in communication, not engineering: the correct solution would be to make it clear that the driver schedules are the hard deadlines and form the backbone of the project’s critical path. There should have been at least one meeting where this was emphasised to the site and the project managers. Clearly this either didn’t happen, or it did happen, but it was forgotten (i.e. the meeting itself failed.)

    The high-level project managers would be aware of these issues, but those on-site might not be. Why? Because Network Rail were forced to run multiple major renewal, maintenance and upgrade projects over the same few days, using a resource politicians seem to think there’s an infinite number of: skilled project managers.

    We’re humans, not robots. Mistakes happen. You learn from the mistakes and make sure they aren’t repeated. The article at the very top of this thread makes it clear that’s exactly what happened.

    Despite this, Network Rail still managed to get all these projects completed. Those include bridge replacements, track renewals, and even new signalling being commissioned. All over the same period.

    One of those projects overruns and they get this massive trial by media? I smell a rat. Multiple rats. [No need to be offensive. Snip. LBM] This is classic spin and misdirection. And it worked like a charm.

  91. Greg Tingey says:

    If you have luggage &/or pushchairs &/or small children, how are you going to get to the Vic-Line?
    Down a set of normal steps then a large spiral staircase.
    The lifts may or may not be working yet ……
    Note that Network Rail went for brand new equipment specifically to avoid reliability problems. Yes, & some of us wonder if that wasn’t a major mistake right on its own – something that has never been pre-tested – oops!

    Agree with your last, of course.
    I wonder how long before, when another of these occurs (& it will, eventually ) and a senior NR manager tells the politicians: “Well, you are in charge, NR is wholly guvmint-owned, so why are you asking me questions, then?”
    I think the resulting tableaux could be highly entertaining.

  92. Chris C says:

    Anomnibus – thanks for the link to the NR press release.

    I wonder how many MPs issued press releases about the work in their constituencies (or on lines their constituents use) and how it was all down to their demanding it to be done but not even a ‘thank you’ to the people who were working over Christmas & New Year.

    Just like the article in my local rag last week where a prospective candidate is claiming almost sole credit for the improvements on the Northern Line (more trains, new signals etc)

  93. Anomnibus says:

    @Greg Tingey:

    Unless they’re on the Moorgate train already, they’re going to be using stairs regardless. Going down another flight of stairs is still easier than going up a flight of stairs with suitcases / rambunctious shopping / heavy children / etc.

    @Chris C:

    My point exactly. Far more of the work Network Rail was doing got done both on time and on budget. One project did not. Out of 300. As I said, that’s a better than 99% success rate. These people were working their nadgers off in very poor weather over Christmas to ensure the railway is fit for purpose when people go back to work, and this is the thanks they get? What about some credit for the 299 projects that they got right?

    Still, it got the Chilcot report off the front pages for a while.

  94. Malcolm says:

    Anomnibus says ” This is classic spin and misdirection”
    Anomnibus says (in a later message) “As I said, that’s a better than 99% success rate”

    Some people might wonder just who is spinning here.

    I admire your spirited defence of NR, and it’s perfectly true that the people involved were all working very hard over a holiday period with, for the most part, successful results. That doesn’t alter the fact that two of their tasks went badly wrong in a highly visible way. A little bit of seeing both sides of the argument here would not go amiss.

  95. Fandroid says:

    It’s worth a wonder whether those who asked for brand-new log grabs meant ‘don’t use old and knackered gear, use exactly the same items (mark x) but straight out of the box’. Then what they got (and no-one checked) was mark x+n. Either that or the original mark x gear had been modified by the plant hirer to work with their own machines, and no-one thought to ensure that the replacements would not need to be modified as well.

    Anomnibus does a great job of defending the project managers, but it does seem obvious that they made a significantly wrong decision fairly early on Christmas morning, and those on here with project experience can clearly see that. That’s not to say that in the heat of the moment, we/I could never have done the same thing!

    Serious foul-ups like this are a wonderful training tool. Those directly involved in the management will have absorbed some lessons that should serve them well in future. Their preparation is likely to be that bit more careful, and if they find themselves in a similar situation again, then this experience will give them the steely courage which enables them to speak up or to make unpopular decisions. We can only hope that all who were involved aren’t regarded as an embarrassment or permanently excluded from similar work.

  96. Guano says:

    The key issue appears to have been the failure to appreciate (early on 25th December) that there was a high risk of an over-run. More needs to be known about what contributed to this failure. Warning the operators of this risk would have allowed better planning of alternative services.

    Would it have been possible to abort part of the engineering work at that stage? Were NR committed to completing the full job as soon as the first rail was removed and cut up?

  97. Ian Sergeant says:

    A few points catching up on the discussion during the last day. Savoy Circus makes a valid point regarding operating procedures at Finsbury Park. However, we will never know. The situation eased once the correct procedures were followed, but I suspect by this time passenger numbers had decreased especially given the media coverage. A parallel with the Old Oak Incident may not be appropriate – the business continuity plan at Reading is far more resilient than that at Finsbury Park.

    The Other Paul talks about a similarity to IT Projects where no-one will admit that a project will overrun despite it being obvious. There is a big difference though. A delayed or failed project often results in a mauling from stakeholders, but there is usually no reputational damage as the project is not known to the press and there is no visible impact to the public. A failed implementation, on the other hand, can often lead to unwanted attention from the Daily Mail, so the focus of the implementation management is always, in my experience, to protect the existing business. This is where the parallel should be with the King’s Cross incident. Why no hourly command and control calls escalating the status to senior management when the implementation is slipping? Why no troubleshooter sent on site when it was clear the on-site team lacked basic reporting skills? It seems to me that the railway has a lot to learn from the IT industry here.

  98. Simon Kenyon Shepard says:

    I wonder if they did a 5 why’s root cause analysis on this or just stopped at the bloody obvious errors. For example, “contractors must be required to test new equipment in off rail environment”. Well why weren’t they doing that in the FIRST PLACE? One might wonder…

  99. Anonymous says:

    @lemmo 25.01 21:06

    The platforms you refer to were numbered 9 & 10 when they closed in 1976. If they are reinstated they will still be 9 & 10.

    everyone else:

    According to the posters and timetables at GN stations, the GN weekend service was supposed to run to Moorgate on 27-28 December. I walked past Winchmore Hill on Saturday morning and the service was subject to “severe delays” i.e. not running.

  100. Theban says:


    The engineers made mistakes – not pre-testing the compatibility of equipment. That sort of thing happens on projects and it’s the job of project managers to stop mistakes like that escalating into chaos. I’ve experience both as a project and programme manager and also in project assurance and not recognising that driver rostering was a critical resource is the sort of mistake that I have seen many project mangers make. It’s comparable to not pre-testing equipment compatibility. A major mistake but still just the sort of mistake which happens.

    But IMHO not having a contingency plan for being unable to hand back lines on schedule is a far more serious project management error.

  101. Mark Townend says:


    According to this little diagram, the ‘Creep Up’ was known later as the ‘Up Engine Line’ and gained great importance as the main access from Finsbury Park TMD for light engines going to pick up their trains at Kings Cross station. That suggests the connection must have survived until the diesel depot closed in 1983.

  102. Josh says:

    But they did get the work done to the spec intended, right?

  103. timbeau says:

    No – because the spec included a completion time, which wasn’t met. It’s been said before, but for any major job you can guarantee any two of time, budget and quality, but not all three.

  104. MikeP says:

    Ian S @ 18:56 makes the point about reputational damage, and how this a risk that, some would argue (me included) is the most significant at the implementation stage. Managing it was handled even more badly than the other aspects of the project.
    (It’s also what’s failing so badly over at LBG at the moment)

  105. Alan Griffiths says:

    timbeau @ 27 January 2015 at 10:15

    “It’s been said before, but for any major job you can guarantee any two of time, budget and quality, but not all three.”

    So, Timbeau’s uncertainty principle for Engineering has three dimensions. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle for fundamental particles had only two dimensions.

  106. Anon says:

    Latest NRPS data released this morning shows a decline in customer satisfaction across almost all TOCs. The industry needs to up its game.

  107. Graham H says:

    I have been following this thread with a wry smile and couldn’t help wondering how many of the pundits have actually managed a major infrastructure project. This is not to excuse what happened during the festive season, but the railway industry is one of the few – possibly hotelkeeping and haircuts are others – that actually invites its customers into the production process. That has dire reputational consequences, as here. For all we know, the process of delivering beans to Tesco’s shelves is equally fraught, but we don’t get involved.

  108. Anon says:

    @Graham H If something goes awry with the process of delivering beans to Tesco, it is very unlikely to ruin someone’s Christmas – unless they have very odd preferences for Christmas dinner!

  109. Graham H says:

    @Anon -my point: you simply move to another supplier or shrug and go beanless for a week. However, the project management tasks are potentially the same in a wide range of industries;it’s just the misfortune of the railway industry to undertake all this in the full gaze of the public. Thatmay not be a very profound point, but it does explain the wide range of engagement from pundits which is absent frommost other sectors of industry. (that doesn’tmake the pundits right,of course; I still recall the spluttering indignation of one railway manager who had been told by an angry punter that every time he passed through a section of track under repair, the workforce appeared to be standing beside the track doing nothing…)

  110. Jim Cobb says:

    So NR has two options – make sure these jobs go right 100% of the time (which any PM will tell you is impossible), or get a lot better at the PR side of this.

    It is very easy for us here to sit back in our armchairs (computer desks, whatever) and say what should have happened, but it is very easy to point out what went wrong after the event, much harder to do it beforehand. As long as you are learning from your mistakes and not making them again, you are getting better. The question is therefore, is NR learning from these mistakes ?

    Also, whilst NR performed badly at managing the work, the TOC’s are hardly left blameless in how they managed the resulting disruption. So are the TOC’s learning from these mistakes ?

  111. Reynolds 953 says:

    The RBS computer failure in 2012 was something that affected millions, and attracted the ire of politicians and the regulator although this was caused by supposedly routine maintenance rather than a major upgrade.

    Although the explanations of the RBS failure involving “inexperienced staff” and “decades of underinvestment” seem somewhat familiar.

    As someone who is involved with engineering project management I always think “there but for the grace of god…” when something like this happens.

  112. mathias broucek says:

    First time poster here (longer-time lurker)

    On the run-in to Kings Cross, I’ve never understood why there are only four lines when there’s space for six. Would Kings Cross be more resilient if there were six running lines? Or is there a reason (other than maintenance costs) that four lines is better?

  113. timbeau says:

    @Alan Griffiths
    “Timbeau’s uncertainty principle for Engineering has three dimensions”

    The Business Management Trilemma is not otriginal to me, I assure you! Its engineering equivalent can be summarised as “fast, cheap, reliable – choosse two”

    “[failure in] delivering beans to Tesco is very unlikely to ruin someone’s Christmas”

    Maybe so, but three of its competitors got in a tizz when people who had carefully reserved pre-Christmas delivery slots as soon as they were open, found that they lost the slot when they later tried to amend the order – with the next available slot being in the New Year

  114. timbeau says:

    @Matthias Brouckek
    “On the run-in to Kings Cross, I’ve never understood why there are only four lines when there’s space for six. Would Kings Cross be more resilient if there were six running lines? Or is there a reason (other than maintenance costs) that four lines is better?”

    There used to be six – which is why there are three parallel tunnels. There used to be a large amount of freight traffic, and (pre-electrification) Moorgate trains went that way too. The simplificatoin of the Kings Cross “throat” in the early 1970s reduced the tracks to four. The easternmost bore of Gasworks Tunnel was reserved for the High Speed link to London’ Third Airport (and deep-water port) which was all set to start construction at bthe end of 1973 but scrapped by the incoming Labour Government the following year. Other vestiges survive in the phantom junctions at the M11/North Circular Road junction, where the M12 was to have branched off to deepest Essex.

  115. Jim Cobb says:

    @Matthias Brouckek and others
    Making changes around Kings Cross may make it more resilient, but the work to implement that resilience would mean far more engineering work, and therefore an increase in the chance of similar problems happening again. Don’t forget that this job was routine maintenance and it is bad enough that it goes wrong then – imagine the reaction if similar problems happened during work designed to avoid these sort of problems !

  116. Anonymous says:

    There are 4 lines instead of six mainly because the inner suburbans no longer went via Kings Cross to Moorgate, freight traffic had dropped off a cliff or been diverted away for the HST, this left the ECS which dropped off as diagrams became more intense – if you went to Wood Green/Alexander Palace in the late 70’s/early 80’s there was still a regular stream of sleeper/parcels/papers in the mornings returning to Bounds Green.

    The expansion of Thameslink is likely to result in the partial restoration of at least one of these lines.

  117. Theban says:

    @Graham H

    Your point is valid but I don’t think you have taken it through to its conclusion. In all types of projects, things go wrong. Project managers work to reduce that to make projects run more smoothly but that’s really a secondary function. Their primary function is to protect project sponsors. Some projects will go over time, some will not fully meet quality and on others there will be an overspend. That’s the nature of project work and is generally understood. So long as there’s no consistent pattern of failure, politically that isn’t an issue.

    However, outside finishing projects on time, to budget and as specified, there are usually some fuzzier boundary conditions which cannot be breached without consequences. So going 5% over budget might be accepted, a project which goes 100% over budget is likely to draw a lot of criticism. The boundaries are never precise but in this case there would seem to be two in terms of quality and time:

    1. Ensure the work and work product are safe
    2. Ensure there is no major unplanned disruption

    The project failed on the second. From the outside it is hard to see whether fault lies with the project managers or project sponsors (the sponsors’ demands might have been too stringent) but the lack of contingency plans for failing to hand over on schedule suggests a project management failure.

    In your beans example, failing to stock beans on time might not meet project targets but probably wouldn’t hit one of the outer boundary rules. Not delivering any vegetables to London, however, probably would and would similarly attract press attention.

    I was taught PRINCE by someone close to its original formulation. It and similar project management frameworks help many projects to meet their goals. In my experience, however, once a project slips beyond its formal goals, many project managers don’t really know what to do and techniques like PRINCE don’t seem to have much to say about dealing with failing projects other than suggesting a post-mortem. Somebody earlier mention death-march projects and I think that was an apposite observation. Much sooner than happened, somebody should have determined that the project goals could not be met and started managing the consequences of that determination.

  118. Anomnibus says:

    @Malcolm (and others):

    I don’t see why an assertion that Network Rail managed a “better than 99% success rate” is ‘spin’. It’s demonstrable fact. Unless you can provide evidence to the contrary, I stand by it. (Yes, it may appear that I’m defending Network Rail, but that’s only because nobody else seems to be doing so, and I’m also a sucker for playing devil’s advocate.)

    What Network Rail’s detractors, ably assisted by the usual suspects, are doing is spinning a 0.3% failure rate as a major systemic failure in Network Rail itself. This is an unrealistic standard to hold any project management team to. Nobody can guarantee a 100% success rate with projects of this scale and complexity.

    I do agree that NR have lessons to learn from this, but the original article makes it clear that they’re doing so: near the end of the piece, it discusses a Network Rail report into the delay that makes some very clear recommendations. That looks like learning from their mistakes to me.

  119. Graham H says:

    @Theban – having spent the last few years of my working life based in engineering consultancies, I very much agree with your analysis and the remarks about “death march” project management. In that employment, I headed what, for want of anything better, was the business consultancy end of things, dealing with policy advice and feasibility studies. My engineering colleagues really couldn’t understand why conventional project management techniques didn’t apply. The problem was that, unlike building a bridge, where the Rumsfeldian unknown unknowns are relatively limited, policy advice was almost invariably a leap in the dark. Anything could – and usually did – arise because of politics, some previously neglected legal problem, or simply that the emerging results were unpalatable; this meant that we had to be extremely flexible in planning and reacting. But the engineering folk,who insisted that we use their project management template, couldn’t cope with that. “What do you mean that you are not performing module 6.2.7 – it’s now week 14 and that’s what you should do – No,we discovered yesterday that the Minister’s mistress didn’t like it, so we binned it and now we are doing something different.” (A real life example from the task of preparing the Macedonian State Railways for sale).

    Intrusive project management based around P1 or PRINCE started to affect project delivery and screwed up relations with the clients, particularly if the project manager met them in person; eventually, I compromised with corporate headquarters – we would have a nominal project manager, who would stay in Basingstoke and have nothing to do with the project except count the cash.

    What this boils down to is that however carefully you plan in advance, on the day, on the ground, even for well-defined engineering projects, you cannot avoid empowering a lead manager who must have both the knowledge and authority to make real time changes – a judgement call, therefore. Otherwise, the death march goes over the cliff (?).

  120. PRINCE is an acronym for PRojects IN Controlled Environments, and is a process-based method for effective project management.

  121. Theban says:

    It’s like running 99% of trains on time – although of course “on time” doesn’t mean “on time”, but assume it did. Which would be worse for commuters: their train 1 minute late every day all year or precisely on time 200 days in the year but 3 hours late on the other day they travel?

    The truth is that 99% isn’t a hugely useful success measure. Regardless of whether 99% of projects meet internal goals or not, avoiding unplanned major disruption is a six-sigma goal, or at least the public expect it to be. You also need to remember that the London Bridge problems haven’t won any friends and had already primed the pump so that any other major delivery failure would make headlines.

  122. Theban says:

    @Graham H

    That’s precisely it. Project management is a very useful tool but knowing when not to use it is as important as knowing how to use it.

  123. Anomnibus says:


    “The project failed on the second. From the outside it is hard to see whether fault lies with the project managers or project sponsors (the sponsors’ demands might have been too stringent) but the lack of contingency plans for failing to hand over on schedule suggests a project management failure.”

    The plan was to not have all the lines out of north London being worked on at the same time. Network Rail intended to some of the work in the preceding summer. Politicians said “No.” Network Rail were therefore stuck between a rock and a hard place…

    They had a plan for what to do if the project overran: “King’s Cross Alpha One”. It was implemented. Unfortunately, said plan was drawn up to handle any interruption in services between Finsbury Park and Kings Cross, and was optimised for commuter flows, which are the primary passenger flow on the line, not for seasonal Christmas traffic. Finsbury Park is primarily a commuter station, not an interchange suitable for long-distance holiday passengers.

    Had the Powers That Be not forced Network Rail to crunch through all these projects over the same few days, many services could have simply been diverted to another terminus instead. This was the first problem, but it wasn’t Network Rail’s fault. (Though some may argue that NR could have put its case more strongly.)

    King’s Cross Alpha One was the only possible fall-back plan available. They implemented it. It worked as well as could have been expected, barring some early platform-allocation mistakes. People got wet, but despite the media hysteria, I’m pretty sure nobody died.

  124. Malcolm says:


    The part of your claims which looked, to me, a lot like spin, was a statistic used by counting projects, ignoring their different sizes and importances, and suggesting that the resulting figure meant anything at all.

    I thought that was so obviously spin that I did not need to spell it out.

  125. Jonathan says:

    I can’t help but think if privatisation hadn’t meant train drivers being divided into a large number of passenger-only drivers and a small number of freight-only ones, all of them only qualified to drive the selection of routes and traction used by their employer, then this wouldn’t have happened.
    Then again, if driver shortage was a limitation of the original plan, perhaps these imaginary multi-skilled drivers would have been committed to do something else anyway 😉

  126. timbeau says:

    @Anon 1448

    HSTs and electrification also had an effect, by eliminating light locomotive movements to and from Finsbury Park depot. (Until 1977 even the Cambridge expresses used to be loco-hauled)

  127. answer=42 says:

    @Graham, Theban,

    Actually, Graham had three options:
    1. Declare 6.2.7 broken and search for an alternative procedure (Graham’s choice)
    2. Persuade the minister and/or his mistress that 6.2.7 is really a good idea (probably the cheapest option but the highest risk)
    3. Ensure that the minister’s mistress is shopping in Paris at the critical point (low risk but probably high cost)

    Project management and politics do actually mix, provided it is recognised that politics is concerned with process as well as outcome.

    Much more to write but no time – I have a project to deal with.

  128. Graham H says:

    @answer=42 – 🙂 And there may be other options, too, such as find another option but persuade the Minister that actually it’s the same as 6.2.7 (or, suboption B), it’s one he thought of himself; leave the country; hand over to your deputy. Have used all of those except the last. Choice of option involves thoughtful judgement of client’s likely reaction…

  129. Westfiver says:

    The objective of this 4 day project was to renew 7 point-ends, and associated track and ballast at Holloway Junction, then hand back an operational, reliable and safe 4-track railway prior to service start on Monday 29th December. Nobody can dispute that this was not successfully delivered to specification, despite all the bad cards Network Rail were dealt. The project did not overrun.

    What is obvious from this project is that Network Rail is highly dependent on outside agencies/companies for the delivery of these projects in providing resources such as plant, equipment and personnel. Surely it was the task of the Freight Operating Company to provide locos and drivers in line with the project’s engineering train operating plan – there should not have been a shortage of drivers. I also believe it was the same plant supplier providing the RRVs and the log-grabs – common sense would have suggested that they would have been tested together and working prior to leaving their depot.

  130. answer=42 says:

    I’ll bite.

    It’s your project and you specify the inputs, taking account of the risks. If you specify train + driver until a certain time, that is what you’ll get. Getting the appropriate specification for each input or group thereof is not nec. simple, which is why complex projects are defined as sets of subtasks.

    Your point does bring up some interesting questions.

    The project managers on this forum will tell us which were the more serious Network Rail errors:
    – Not having obligatory overrun reporting and strategy
    – Not having exhaustive critical failure point identification and alternate process e.g. train drivers)
    – Not having testing procedures in place for alternate process (e.g. log grabs)
    – Not including customer information systems, including those of TOCs included in emergency plan i.e. Alpha One
    – Not having procedure for managing local compliance with emergency plan i.e. Finsbury Park

    Not drawing genera

  131. Savoy Circus says:

    As i understand it the correct number of freight drivers was provided but because of project delays and rules about maximum hours that can be worked a shortage developed. I don’t know the the amount of contingency in the number of drivers booked but it appears that driver resources were stretched nationally so perhaps not as much as would be ideal.

  132. answer=42 says:

    Not drawing general conclusions from poor outcome, report is mostly confined to specifics.

    Network Rail must have a ‘book’ on project planning. It would be interesting to see its structure and how it changes from this learning experience.

    Should also note two things that went right:
    – Alpha One seems to be generally a good plan, almost well executed, despite its omissions
    – The call to continue the full works was the right one at that point in time

    The point about testing the RRVs and log grabs is an interesting one. Clearly someone spotted the potential failure and anticipated a risk from worn equipment. And yet the new equipment was not tested. We could guess that the need might have been foreseen. Was there too little time? Or did the nature of the equipment supply contract preclude testing? I can imagine the poor project manager anticipating the need to test but being completely unable either to do it or to convince a higher power of the risks involved.

  133. timbeau says:

    “Surely it was the task of the Freight Operating Company to provide locos and drivers in line with the project’s engineering train operating plan ”
    They did – but when the plan started to go off course there were not enough drivers to cope with the extempore measures they tried to take.

    “The objective of this 4 day project was to renew 7 point-ends, and associated track and ballast at Holloway Junction, then hand back an operational, reliable and safe 4-track railway prior to service start on Monday 29th December.”
    Leaving aside the other objective, which was to hand back two of the tracks on 27th, it is important to recognise that the second half of that objective is as important as the first: I am reminded of John F Kennedy’s mission “to land a man on the moon and bring him safely back to earth”. Apollo 13 demonstrated the importance of the second half of that statement: – that mission is now celebrated as a triumph: I doubt that a failure of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to take off from the Moon (a manoeuvre which had never been attempted before from any astronomical body other than the Earth, even by an unmanned craft) would have been considered in the same way.

    Indeed, no-one has ever died actually in space.

  134. Theban says:


    Ask different project managers and you will get different answers. Neither is definitely right or wrong. Personally I prefer having a project director sat between the project managers and the project Sponsor, someone skilled in both project management and in politics. In that role my personal choice would depend on the calibre of the project managers. If our experienced I would want to reduce risks as much as possible upfront even if that cost more. With highly experienced project managers used to troubleshooting projects on the fly, I would take more risks confident of the team’s ability to cope with the unexpected. That way the project should cost less.

    Whatever I decided though I would get the project sponsor to sign off on the risk.

    As Graham has so ably explained, true project management / direction is much more than a simple technical task.

  135. The Other Paul says:

    @Graham H
    I take your point about railway projects being “visible” but I disagree that they’re in any way unique or even rare in that respect. Only yesterday Facebook was down after a project cock-up, RBS has already been mentioned, then there’s the Wembley stadium saga, and how much did the M25 widening end up costing again? Over in Ukraine some 28 odd years ago a certain power facility was conducting a testing project that went a bit badly wrong….

    There are all the obvious things that go majorly wrong so rarely, or the consequences are managed so well, that you haven’t considered them – power stations, water works, TV channels, telecoms, gas…. the list is significant, all these things have regular projects to maintain and upgrade them, and most of them are more critical to most people than railways.

    So I’m sorry but I reject the line that “railways are special”. Railways are a political football, certainly, but if major project-related outages happened on, say, the water, power or gas networks these would be political footballs too.

  136. Walthamstow Writer says:

    Nice to see a bit of reality creeping in amongst all the unending criticism. I’ve not been formally trained as a project manager but have been a project sponsor in the past. I’ve dealt with good and bad project managers and been involved at the inception of projects and also been lumbered with taking over a project that was over budget, late and subject to changes to user requirements once they’d had a chance to “play” with the initial version of the system. I’ve had projects run to time and cost, projects late but on budget and ones that were late, descoped and over budget. The latter ones are where you don’t want to go back to the authorising meeting to confess your sins. I’ve also had to do the old “grill the project manager” routine with my bullsh*t detector set to the maximum level to make sure I got to the truth of what was happening rather than being given a load of old platitudes.

    As Theban rightly points out things go wrong on projects all the time – the skill is to rebalance and reschedule the programme to remain within the time, cost and quality parameters. Oh and to make sure that the people who need to know do know what’s happened, why and what’s been done to keep things on track or where a decision is needed from them. That’s where skilled and experienced PMs are worth the money.

    In terms of perception then I’m sure people would say Crossrail is on time and on budget and overall that is quite correct. However it’s pretty to clear to me that they’ve had a variety of things go wrong, activities delayed etc. The tunnelling in the City should have been done by now but it’s pretty clear it’s behind schedule for some reason. Is it going to delay the entire project? – no. The programme has sufficient flex to cope. Is anyone having a panic about it? – not that we know of. Is the project being dragged through the mud by the media? – nope. It’s all being managed effectively (again based on what an outsider can ascertain).

  137. Ian J says:

    On the alleged 99% success rate of Network Rail projects over Christmas, it is worth noting that the current electrification in the north (meant to be delivered in time for the December timetable change) is running late with no opening date announced, engineering work at Old Oak Common also over-ran, and, worse, a group of workers put a track trolley on an in-use line at the Heathrow junction: a Heathrow Express train approached and the workers were fortunately able to jump clear, but the train hit the trolley. If it had derailed then the consequences could have been very serious. There are also the problems at London Bridge. Perhaps it’s invidious to compare TfL and Network Rail, but Peter Hendy’s latest Commissioner’s report has a long list of road and rail projects that were completed by TfL over Christmas.

    I think WW is on the money: it is not whether things go wrong, but how well you manage the inevitable things that go wrong and how well you communicate with the public and the stakeholders (yes, including the politicians).

  138. AlisonW says:

    I used to be a Program Manager in the IT industry and started running projects well before PRINCE and its ilk came into being. Thing is, frameworks like PRINCE are reasonably useful for *planning* but fall by the wayside the nearer things get to delivery. The argument went “You can have it on time, or you can keep it to price, or you can do it right. Whichever you then choose the others _will_ change” (unless you build in so much spare capacity that it doesn’t show, but then that would show bad planning too.

    imho there was an over-reach in trying to do so many projects around the country at the same time. A very understandable desire, definitely, but given the finite limit on loco drivers especially then a clear likelihood that things would go belly up. That they did on the morning of the 25th wasn’t recognised by those on the ground — or rather (with hindsight) those on the ground didn’t want to accept what had happened and, maybe because of the season, didn’t want to escalate the situation up the management tree. There appears to have been no possibility of ‘reserves’ being on standby.

    Project and Program management is about juggling balls and keeping the plates spinning while ensuring you’ve planned for the right numbers of balls and plates. At Holloway Junction they lost their balance.

    Also … Alpha One is clearly not fit for purpose as it makes unreasonable suppositions about possibilities outwith local control, eg use of other terminii / routes.

  139. JA says:

    To take a slightly oblique view on things, had the disruption happened on any other date than the 27th of December then they would have received far less attention from the media, and consequently the politicians. Sources of news evaporate over the Christmas period, so a straightforward story of disrupted travel, with accompanying pictures of queuing passengers leaps straight to the top of the headlines. The fact that Finsbury Park is easily accessible for camera crews and journalists from central London must have been manna from heaven for the 24 hour news channels and editors who had to fill papers on the Sunday. It was interesting to note how quickly the discussion moved from the disruption to Mark Carne’s bonus. And then how quickly the position moved from it being a matter for an independent internal committee to him rescinding it. It doesn’t seem outrageous to suggest that some political pressure might have been applied.

    It has been touched on previously, but had ‘Alpha One’ been successfully implemented on the 27th then it is highly unlikely that the specific failures within the engineering possession would have come under such close scrutiny. Though one clearly precipitated the other, perhaps it would be fairer to look at them as two very distinct issues. The way in which Network Rail plans and organises engineering works, and the way in which TOCs and Network Rail plan for and work together in the event of unforeseen disruption.

  140. Ian J says:

    @timbeau: Indeed, no-one has ever died actually in space

    Apologies in advance for the off-topic and egregious pedantry, but it just happens I was reading yesterday about Soyuz 11, whose crew did die in space. Their exact fate may not have been reported at the time: failures in project management are easier to cover up in a totalitarian state.

    This also prompts me to think that failures in other countries don’t always make it into the English-language media, sometimes creating a misleading impression that English-speaking countries have more such failures than others.

  141. timbeau says:

    @Ian J
    Thank you – I was aware of Soyuz 11 but had understood it to have happened closer to the Karman Line (the 100km altitude at which space officially starts) so that asphyxiation would have been in the upper atmsosphere rather than in outer space. Reading it again I see I had confused miles and kilometres.

  142. Graham H says:

    @TheotherPaul – I wasn’t arguing for special treatment for railways’ project management, not at all, merely that railways are unusual (but not unique) in having the punters sluicing through the production process. I don’t recall the punters being around during Thames Water’s ring main project, nor indeed in the Ukrainian case you mention -in the latter instance, they’d have been dead long ago if they were. The point I was making, so let me make it again, was that inviting the punters into your “factory” not only shows them all the things you’d rather have kept under wraps but also attracts a raft of self-styled experts in project management/industrial relations/ production techniques.

  143. Anomnibus says:

    @Ian J:

    Sorry, I was unaware of those problems you mentioned. (And I’m surprised the trolley incident didn’t make it to the media, as it has echoes of the Ladbroke Grove disaster.) I am living outside the UK, so I’m limited in my exposure to UK-specific news to the usual general news websites. I read about the King’s Cross mess on the BBC’s news website, but have heard not a peep about those problems you mentioned.

    @Graham H and others:

    A railway network is, I’d argue, a somewhat unusual case, if not necessary a unique one. Most construction-related projects tend to be of limited scope and rarely have wide network effects if they go wrong. Even major road infrastructure projects have the advantage that there are a lot more roads than railways: if you have to close Junction 3 on the M25, drivers can usually find an alternative route for their journeys without much faff.

    The rail network is rather more limited: close the tracks into King’s Cross and you can’t just run IC225s down the Northern Line instead.

    The UK’s railways have large sections that are often well over 150 years old — some aren’t far off 200 years old now in places — and that means you can expect surprises. But those same railways have seen a lot or urban sprawl grow up alongside them, particularly around major conurbations. When King’s Cross opened, it was almost entirely surrounded by fields. Paddington was built in open countryside. The contractors could therefore make as much noise as they liked.

    Even something as seemingly simple as replacing a bridge can result in unexpected delays due to the nature of (in that example) the materials used in the original structure, but the presence of housing right next to the site means the contractors also had to be ‘good neighbours’. This means there are other constraints applied to the work too, such as priority given to low-noise solutions, even if they cost more and have more risks associated with them.

    In that Tanners Hill Flydown article, the close proximity of the road bridge to peoples’ homes meant they originally hoped to avoid the use of noisy demolition procedures, but they had no choice in the end but to fall back on pneumatic drills. They got the job done, but the locals ended up with a very noisy Christmas and New Year holiday period. Had they just gone in with jackhammers from the very beginning, the noise would have been much the same, but it would have been over more quickly.

    For the King’s Cross example, one constraint was the fact that there is no other option other than Finsbury Park to terminate services at in the event that they cannot run through to King’s Cross itself. This is because Network Rail were forced to close all the routes north of London during this period, because their bosses wouldn’t let them do any of it over the summer. Thus there were no diversionary routes available into London.

    Again, I’m not convinced the blame lies solely with Network Rail here. Politicians and ministers shouldn’t be interfering and micromanaging at this level. NR’s website explicitly states that they are an ‘arm’s-length body’; someone needs to explain to the government what “arm’s-length” means.

    This was the first domino to fall. Had NR been allowed to do their damned job properly, this wouldn’t have happened. There are, after all, only a finite number of professional project managers, sponsors, etc., available in this industry. Spread them too thin and some of those spinning plates are almost guaranteed to fall. Crucially, more drivers would have been available as there would be fewer projects in progress over the same period.

  144. timbeau says:

    The trolley incident did make it to the media
    but it got much less attention as it did not affect the travelling public, it happened away from public gaze, and no-one got hurt. Had KX not happened it might have got more attention from the media. Undoubtedly it will get a lot of attention from the RAIB.

  145. Fandroid says:

    The project team achieved one of their major objectives, ie they got the lines open for the 29th. I think congratulations are in order for that. To recover in that way after a very hairy four days was a great achievement. I’ve had my twopennyworth (well actually a couple of quids worth) on here, applying hindsight and aging experience from the comfort of my sofa. I hope that the NR top brass recognise that their embarrassment has been strictly limited by that achievement.

    There is a massive difference between projects that have the benefit of time (Crossrail) and very time restricted ones like this one where it’s almost a case of light the blue touch paper and stand back. The management had to be carried out in ever decreasing real time.

    @Graham H. I commend the ‘hand over to your deputy’ expedient. It works so long as you agree with him/her that they shouldn’t drop you in it too much in front of the client/sponsor.

  146. Damian says:

    While the focus is on the log grabs and freight drivers as the root cause of the delays I am forced to wonder how many things went right. These kind of projects are so far down the cone of uncertainty that the chances of ever delivering a reliable cost, time, quality ratio are small.

    The conversation with the rental company on grabs and rail roaders is one I can imagine:

    NR Engineer: I want this kit and it has to be bomb proof
    Hardware hire guy: Ok then, all brand new, one spare unit and a fitter on site
    NR Engineer: Sounds perfect

    NR engineer now goes on to have the same conversation with hundreds of other suppliers, funnily enough we only focus on this one. While testing stuff makes sense these kinds of kit are pretty standard and interchangeable. Something that bit me in the arse in a big way was a brand new fuel bowser, rented for exactly the same reasons, robustness. Bloody thing contaminated my diesel and I ended up using the old one with massive hours on its pump. If you test every assumption you are going to have a lot of those bright yellow temporary speed restriction signs…..

    I, for one, am glad they stuck with it. Whilst painful its done and done in such a way it will not need redress in 10 years time.

  147. @Damian,

    I, for one, am glad they stuck with it. Whilst painful its done and done in such a way it will not need redress in 10 years time.

    My thought as well. In 10 years time we won’t yet have HS2 providing any sort of relief. Railways will be busier still. By then the pressure to run long distance services on Boxing Day may force this to happen. The only thing in its favour is that hopefully Finsbury Park will be more useable as a temporary terminus when rebuilding is finished.

    On the subject of Finsbury Park, frustratingly, from Mark Townend’s modification of a Network Rail diagram, it appears to have a couple of tracks served by platforms on both sides but these were not used for the long distance trains – probably as they were on the slow lines. To have platforms on both sides when having lots of people alighting and boarding a terminating busy long distance train is what operators can normally only dream of. At Finsbury Park they actually exist but, for whatever reason, they can’t be, or at least weren’t, used.

  148. PJW says:

    Project management is largely about ‘Managing the Unexpected’, of which proper Risk Management constitutes a major component.
    You can plan a project for about 80%, taking about 20% of the time. Project Managing the remaining 20% of the project takes the remaining 80% of the time.

  149. Damian says:

    @Pedantic of Purley

    The more I think of it the more I think its just one of those things and really not such a big deal. What are they putting the mean time before failure at on this infrastructure? Assuming its measured in decades a 4 day outage in the lowest usage period seems a cheap price to pay! I have always been a little contrary though.

    If we, as a country, had a more steady form of maintenance. Less famine/feast and more constant development in both maintenance and infrastructure we would not be in this situation. Your point about even more strained capacity in 10 years is well made as is evident across the board. We all but stopped building roads 20 something years ago and built no main line railway in the entire 20th century (you may pedantically point out HS1 was built in the 90s but it was opened after 2000 :-).

    I would suggest that lessons need to be learnt but its really not the disaster the news would have us believe.

  150. Deep Thought says:

    Apologies for the tangential rant – I wish the team(s) dealing with the flooding at Farringdon could sort things out a bit sooner!

  151. Mark Townend says:

    @Pedantic of Purley, 28 January 2015 at 13:11

    A new diagram showing the platform usage for reversing trains at Finsbury Park with some suggested ‘quick win’ improvements for handling more trains, more effectively.

    I’m in the process of adding a second page with some further longer term ideas that might be feasible as part of a future major resignalling project.

    There will be future occasions when Kings Cross needs to close, for example for renewal of the major throat junctions, and (not wishing to be excessively alarmist) suddenly for security or other safety reasons, so it seems to be of great strategic importance to take steps to ensure the Alpha One contingency plan can be implemented with a minimum of further disruption.

  152. timbeau says:

    “We …………..built no main line railway in the entire 20th century (you may pedantically point out………………..”

    I will also pedantically point out that the “New North Line”or GW/GC Joint Line (Old Oak Common/Neasden to Grendon Underwood via High Wycombe, now part of the Chiltern Main Line to Banbury, and the Castle Cary to Taunton section of the Great Western which completed its direct route to the West Country, were both opened in 1906. (Both included new build as well as major upgrades to existing branch lines)

    To stretch a point, the Selby diversion on the East Coast Main Line opened in 1983.

  153. Slugabed says:

    Mark Townend
    Thank you for your diagram of Finsbury Park,which saves me having to trot down the road to confirm what I knew to be the case.
    Any Up long-distance service could be arranged to have cross-platform interchange with an Up Moorgate service at Finsbury Park.Passengers could then make another cross-platform interchange at Highbury & Islington to the Victoria Line.
    No stairs,spiral or otherwise.
    This would,I think,be a better option than making the direct change to the Victoria Line at Finsbury Park,which is far from being “perfectly good” at the best of times….

  154. Theban says:


    It depends whether you measure MTBF at the affected site only, on the East Coast Mainline generally or in London. There have been embarrassing overruns near London Bridge over the past 6 months.

    It’s hard to know from the outside how cost is balanced against the risk of disruption if work is not completed on time. My view is that the fuss this has caused is likely to change that balance in future to the benefit of the travelling public and I think that is good. Dawlish had a similar effect.

    20 years ago, perhaps even 10, the railway wasn’t seen as important and the country would just have shrugged. These days, particularly in and around London, the railway is seen as strategic and high standards of reliability are expected. That can only change things for the better.

  155. Steven Taylor says:

    @Damian @Timbeau

    You also have the GWR Ashendon Junction –>Bicester –>Banbury line which opened in 1910.

  156. Alan Robinson says:

    @John Bull
    May I add my appreciation of this article.
    I have only one observation to make.
    I used to bang on about this point during my career on BR.
    The perception that Christmas is a “time of reduced demand to travel”
    is a complete and total nonsense.
    In reality, this attitude is a typical “production led” approach
    brought about by a myopic obsession with COMMUTING and
    Yes, there is less of this, but the potential demand for personal
    travel is absolutely massive. This is not just for usual visiting friends
    and relations, but shopping (sales start) and leisure trips too (so many
    have time off).
    At the very least, I would have thought that a sensible strategy would have been to avoid major (and risky engineering work) on main
    inter city routes. Do the shorter distance local routes at Christmas
    instead, leave main lines to a more congenial time, when there is
    less to go wrong (better weather for a start).
    Of course, there is no “good time” for engineering disruptions.
    I would suggest SEPTEMBER (Holiday traffic has eased off, business
    travel not got up to full stretch) when there is only the Political
    Parties’ conference season to be seriously inconvenienced.
    A great time to rebuild the whole West Coast mainline between London and Manchester.
    There are other concerns. I have travelled extensively all over Europe
    and experienced major engineering work in progress without the
    total line possession and suspension of services so common in the UK.
    How do they do it? We really ought to find out.

  157. Ian J says:

    @Mark Townend: (not wishing to be excessively alarmist) suddenly for security or other safety reasons

    In a strange way, in the days of British Rail when the IRA were in the habit of phoning up every now and then to say they had left a bomb in a major London station (sometimes this was true), and said station had to be closed for several hours while it was searched, I suspect the contingency plans were more robust simply because they got tested more often.

  158. Pedantic of Purley says:

    @Alan Robinson,

    Whilst agreeing that perhaps a better case could be made for less and fewer disruptive engineering works post Christmas I do feel that you are looking a world which is different to that which I see.

    September is often a time when business gets going again now people are back off their holiday. I think a good economic case could be given to argue that September is a particularly bad month to have it. I presume the comment about party political conferences is meant to be facetious. They hardly dominate October as far as travel is concerned.

    I read many times about how they do it so much better on the continent but this does not match up with my experience, what I read and what I am told. In particular the fragmented way that companies (and states) now work abroad mean that it is very difficult to find the information in order to be fairly sure that you will not be affected by engineering works. Hurrah for the DB website which seems to be the only fairly reliable place to try to get this information.

    My experience abroad is that parts of tram systems are often closed either at weekends or for months at at time for rebuilding. Only in Gent have I seen it better done than here where they used temporary overlay points to keep a service going by single track working.

    Weekend closures on the railways abroad are certainly not unknown and when I have experienced them the impression I have from the reaction of the locals it that they are used to it. As to long distance, the line from Hamburg to Berlin was closed for months to sort out a problem.

    Again I am puzzled about you comment about engineering work in progress without the total line possession and suspension of services so common in the UK. This probably happens every weekend on the Brighton Main Line (and sometimes weeknights as well) and you never hear about it. It does seem that each case is treated on its merits. At the moment they are reballasting the Great Eastern Main Line to Norwich to increase line speed and this work is being done at night without passengers being affected.

    As with a lot these things to get the full picture you have to take in account what you don’t see and not have a knee-jerk reaction based solely on what is visible.

  159. Alan Robinson says:


    I have travelled very extensively by rail throughout the European
    Union (and Switzerland). About 10-12 trips pa (I’m off to Gent next
    week), totalling about 89-90 train journeys (all categories of train).
    I accept that my experience is not exhaustive, and certainly does
    not form a “proper” statistical analysis, but, I have encountered
    many examples of major work performed mid week without
    significant delay or disruption. A few examples;-
    Major bridge renewal (near Minden, Germany) achieved by temporary bridge and tracks skewed away from main site (5 min
    delay allowed for in timetable, don’t think we would ever do that).
    Orleans- Limoges (I have made about 100 journeys on this line in last 10 years);- total track renewal, single line possession, all done mid week, a few local (TER) train cancellations only. I have experienced
    delays of up to 10 mins in consequence of this work.
    “Ordinary” track renewal. This generally only requires a single line
    possession in Europe, but not so in the UK.
    I always used to argue that necessary provision for this (crossovers
    bi-directional signalling etc) would be a highly worthwhile
    investment. Of course, for many years BR was under extreme pressure
    to eliminate “surplus capacity”, there was even a special ring fenced
    grant to this purpose.

    Yes , I own up, I was being a bit facetious in conjuring up visions
    of very important politicians being marooned somewhere near Crewe and missing their speech slot at Manchester’s GMEX!!!

    The question of the “most appropriate time to conduct engineering
    works” is not easily solved.
    I would contend that business travellers are the most flexible, least
    likely to be seriously inconvenienced (have expense account, can hire
    car etc). It is the wretched personal traveller who is snookered by
    engineering works shambles. The Kings Cross fiasco will have cost a
    huge amount of goodwill, sufficient to register. I wonder if the
    new Virgin/Stagecoach outfit on the East Coast are already preparing
    a case for “adjustment” to their franchise terms to reflect the loss
    of business?

  160. timbeau says:

    Local train services in the alps are often replaced by buses in the summer months for lon periods for extensive maintenance work: this makes sense as many of the roads become impassable in the winter, making the trains the only available means of transport. They therefore have to be maintained to a very high standard, and this has to be done when replacement bus services are actually practical.
    In my experience the replacement buses (schienenersatzverkehr!) are always reliable and comfortable (in Austria it helps that the Post Bus network is owned by the national railway operator), and they even provide a taxi to connect with the stations whose road access is unsuitable for buses.

  161. Pedantic of Purley says:

    @Alan Robinson,

    I am not doubting that abroad you encountered many examples of engineering work taking place abroad without disrupting trains. What completely puzzles me is why you don’t think that it is the same in Britain. The only explanation I can think of is that you don’t travel at night. Just because there is some disruption, it does not mean a lot of work done causes disruption.

    Another local example we have is Tennison Bridge which was put in place over the railway whilst trains were still running – the road was closed for nine months but that is another matter.

    What is usually crucial to maintaining some service is the distance between the tracks – “the ten foot” as it is colloquially known as but can vary in width. I suspect that one of the issues is that tracks abroad were generally built further apart. In this country, for very valid safety reasons, each site needs to be treated on its own merits.

    I also suspect another issue is the ease, or otherwise, of implementing single line working and whether the service is sufficiently infrequent to make it viable. Single Line Working has become more problematic in the fragmented railway and, whilst it is a thing we all once learnt, I suspect there are few people currently competent to intoduce it. I see things improving as resignalling schemes may well have an element of simplified bi-directional working (SIMBID) introduced to make things easier – but then this brings additional complications as drivers must use it every six months to keep their knowledge up to date.

  162. Anonymous says:

    This highlights another problem – if you want to put in additional redundancy and have processes for coping with outages, you have to regularly test them to make sure they still work and ensure everyone involved knows how to use them. I wonder how often the Kings Cross Alpha One plan is tested ? When could you test it apart from during a real incident ? If you can’t test it, then you have to assume there will be a sub-optimal result.

    This incident would have been a very good test of the plan and no doubt it is being updated accordingly. Nevertheless, you won’t know whether those updates are effective until you test it or run it for real.

  163. Alan Robinson says:


    I do accept your point re difficulties of conducting single line renewals
    in the UK due to our restricted loading gauge etc.
    I have also encountered many examples of engineering work in the
    UK whereby trains have continued to run.
    BUT : In Europe I have encountered many examples of major
    renewals whereby trains continue to run (or most of them) and
    we don’t seem to attempt this, a full blockade is the usual modus
    With regard to Kings Cross last Christmas. Why did NR require a
    full possession of all lines in/out of Kings Cross?
    If they had stretched the work (to include Sat and Sun) then perhaps
    a reasonable compromise could have been arrived at whereby
    (say) a limited service of Inter Cities to North could still have
    run through, but locals terminating at Finsbury Park.
    Maybe it might still have been possible for a few Inter Cities to have
    turned round at Finsbury. Clearly , it was an impossibility to try
    to handle all of these trains at Finsbury, passenger numbers were too great.
    Returning to Europe. I have made many journeys through Gare Austerlitz, which has undergone major rebuilding for last three years
    involving considerable track alterations. In each case a few tracks
    have remained available for long distance trains between Austerlitz
    and Bibliotheque Francois Mitterand (roughly equivalent to Kings
    Cross- Finsbury Park).
    I have made numerous journeys overnight
    A recent trip was on the Berlin – Paris overnight Nachtzug.
    Engineering works totally sabotaged the normal schedule (although
    correctly advised in the timetable, arriving in Paris Est at 11.30 !!!!)
    This involved a fascinating magical mystery tour around North East
    France. This train met its end in December.
    In fact, a major cause of the catastrophic decline in overnight
    trains in Europe is that the more fragmented nature of the international passenger rail business (supposedly to allow for more competition) just can’t cope economically with engineering disruptions.
    I am currently planning more trips to Central Europe (Prague features) . There is still a night train (with sleepers) from Koln
    but I doubt if there will be in 2016. I used to use night trains every
    time for long haul trips. Nowadays I tend to break journey and stay in hotel somewhere.

  164. Pedantic of Purley says:

    @Alan Robinson,

    In Europe I have encountered many examples of major renewals whereby trains continue to run (or most of them) and we don’t seem to attempt this, a full blockade is the usual modus operandi.

    This is the bit I don’t understand. Why do you think this? On my own line, the Brighton Main Line (BML), when I travel at night I see a lot of engineering work going on and am aware of my train being rerouted on different tracks from normal. It is rare for the BML to shut completely. An exception was for Stoats Nest Junction but given the layout of the junction and the fact that the job hadn’t been tackled properly for around 100 years it was hardly surprising it was necessary.

    My argument is that you say a full blockade is the usual modus operandi. I would say that the usual modus operandi is to do the work at night. You are not aware of this because you are tucked up in bed and so you don’t see it. Exceptionally, for bigger tasks there has to be a blockade and often it is quicker and easier and less disruptive for passengers just to do the job and get things back to normal rather than have them suffer a long period of degrated service.

  165. Chris C says:

    On the Washington DC Metro they often do single track working but that leads to head ways of 24 (twenty four) minutes between trains in either direction and whilst it still means there is a service it is hardly regular in nature and leads to a lot of passenger annoyance.

    They can also do it in the Channel Tunnel but again it leads to uneven service times.

  166. Fandroid says:

    I get the impression that, in Germany at least, there is more redundancy in the trackwork and the lines are not so intensively used as here. It’s quite normal to have dedicated S-Bahn tracks with only 3tph running on them. Also, the geography of Germany allows several routes to be taken between pairs of major cities. Engineering disruption is not unusual. Look for the notices with a cartoon mole character on them.

  167. Mark Townend says:

    @Alan Robinson, 29 January 2015 at 11:34

    Part of the problem on the Kings Cross approaches at the worksite in question is that as it is north of the up slow flyover, ‘paired by direction’ applies and any single crossover taken out of use between any two of the four lines will disable all signalled movements in one direction or the other. Hence if two tracks were intended to be kept in operation at any time, as was the intention towards the end of the works, then a special method of safe wrong direction working would have to be set up on one track, which would be a long section necessarily, so trains would’t be able to follow each other at normal headway.

    If there were more tracks on the approaches, as common at many large continental city termini, or more flexible signalling arrangements then perhaps some semblance of a normal service might have been possible more easily, whilst the ongoing maintenance and replacement of the infrastructure took place!

    An additional single bidirectional track laid through the abandoned east side tunnels from the terminus to Finsbury Park could provide significant redundancy. It could also be useful in providing an alternative second ‘contra-flow’ departure line for trains from the east side of the station in parallel with an arrival at a higher numbered platform. The old Up Engine Line route via the dive-under could be reinstated to allow such a departing down train to regain the down side at Finsbury Park.

  168. Pedantic of Purley says:

    @Alan Robinson,

    I thought I would look for evidence. The very first thing I looked at was the Berlin S-bahn. Highlighted was this. So that is three S-bahn lines with disruption for over three months with replacement shuttle bus services.

    If you look at the leaflet (in German and English) you will see the familiar mole referenced above that you seem amazingly immune to on your trips to Germany. More pertinently look at page 9 (not 10 as stated) about the reason for the disruption and it would appear to be all routine stuff that Network Rail would probably do without closing the railway – at least during the week if not the weekends.

  169. Petras409 says:

    One thing that hasn’t been commented upon here is the evidence that Network Rail’s chief exec Mark Carne gave to the Transport Select Committee on 14th January about this incident. To watch the video, see But be prepared for an hour’s viewing.

    Having watched it, however, I am very impressed by his grasp of the issues and his sincerity in answering every question in a factual manner without the slightest suggestion of political spin. Plus he wasn’t phased by some of the irrelevant questioning by certain members of the committee (e.g. his family holiday in Cornwall, his bonus, etc.). A good performance, considering he has been in post for less than a year (arriving while the Dawlish sea wall was being washed away last February) and was not previously a railwayman.

    Yes, things went wrong at Fin Park, but with this man at the helm I think that we can have confidence that NR’s control of ‘events’ is going to get better in future.

  170. Herned says:

    Anyone who does not believe that there are significant closures elsewhere in Europe needs to look at the central section of RER C in Paris which has been closed every August for the whole month since 1996! And the current plan sees this continue until 2020…

  171. Fandroid says:

    @PoP. That Berlin S-Bahn closure does look a bit extreme. I received my usual Weekend Travel Information email from TfL and it stated that the Jubilee Line is closed for ‘tunnelling’ work! While realising that it’s probably a bit of misplaced vocabulary, it does demonstrate that LUL at least does a huge amount of work based on weekend closures, rather than Berlin style blockades.

    However, in Berlin’s defence, you have to remember that an enormous amount of work was done on other parts of the S-Bahn system to re-connect it after the Wall came down. That north-south line kept on running throughout the Cold War and was actually the only way that most people on foot could transfer between the two parts of the city. It probably has a massive amount of work outstanding that they decided was best done in one fell swoop, so to speak.

  172. timbeau says:

    There was no way you could use the S Bahn to transfer between East and West Berlin, although West Berliners could change between lines at Friedrichstrasse (and East Berlin even operated a “duty free” facility there for their benefit) there was no access to or from the East Berlin network or the street.

  173. Ian J says:

    @timbeau: There were East-West border crossings at Friedrichstrasse – marked as 01 and 02 on the diagram on this page. The westward-bound border control building (the “Tranenpalast”) is now an interesting museum.

  174. Graham Feakins says:

    I used all as Ian J describes in 1965, firstly by arriving by train at Friedrichstrasse from Moscow, then using the West side S-Bahn via the border crossing during my stay in East Berlin and later the train from there to Köln.

  175. Robert Butlin says:


    Did you transfer to the Nord-Sub Bahn (ie underground) or to the StadtBahn (on a viaduct)?

  176. timbeau says:

    Point taken – there was a border crossing there, but as I understand it you could not simply get on an S Bahn train in the western sector and alight in the eastern sector – you alighted in the “western” section of Friedrichstrasse station and then went through border control.

  177. Pedantic of Purley says:

    @Alan Robinson,

    I hate to labour a point (no, let’s not lie, I am loving it) but look at this BBC article to see what Network Rail gets up to when no-one notices. In particular not the commentry at 01:47 – 01:50 as the work continues on one track so do the trains on the other.

  178. Alan Robinson says:


    Oh dear! Please accept my assertion that I am aware of the fact that
    a great number of disparate approaches to the vexatious question
    of conducting railway infrastructure works are possible, and there
    is no difficulty in drawing attention to any amount of actual
    All I was trying to say was;- When scheduling a repair/renewal
    affecting a very vital section of route at a sensitive time (i.e. post
    Christmas with all Inter City trains fully booked ) is it really a good
    idea to adopt a methodology that closes all available tracks, when
    there is a heightened risk of things going wrong. (with a considerable
    potential cost from the resulting bad publicity).
    I suggest that the additional cost of maintaining capability to
    run a limited service (on reduced number of tracks) in these
    circumstances might well be shown to be worthwhile, if subjected
    to an objective risk analysis. I don’t know if this is true, just posing
    the question. One suspects that NR is drawn to taking risks of this
    nature driven by a variation of “optimism bias”.

  179. timbeau says:

    @Alan Robinson
    “with all Inter City trains fully booked ”

    Indeed, with the draconian rules in force about the passengers not changing their plans, a ticket for a specific train should imply a contractual obligation to convey the passenger on that date, in more or less the time expected, by whatever means possible.

  180. Malcolm says:

    timbeau says “a ticket for a specific train should imply a contractual obligation to convey the passenger on that date, in more or less the time expected, by whatever means possible”

    Well, it’s not contractual. But that is, in practice, what happens. Sort of. Certainly no train operator refuses to allow holders of an advance ticket to travel on a later train when it is clear that they had no choice (e.g. the booked train did not run). And in some cases train operators do send stranded passengers by taxi, or specially hired coach, or pay for overnight accommodation.

    Yes, the implementation of such things is patchy and full of grey areas. But the general obligation to “get them there somehow” does still seem to be observed, to some extent at least.

  181. Alan Robinson says:


    Indeed! Until the 1990s most personal/leisure passengers were
    travelling on various off peak tickets which in practice were “open”
    (outside of specified time periods) and could be used on any “reasonable route”.
    In event of major suspension of service, most passengers
    (those who had heard about it on TV/Radio) would have transferred
    to an alternative route, i.e. Euston for Scotland, St Pancras for Yorkshire and North East etc (I know, Christmas 2015, Euston was
    out as well! words fail me). Even those unaware of the disruption
    could have just trooped over to St P.
    Yes, this would have resulted in overcrowding, but people would have got there, and without being endangered.
    This very reasonable fear of being “trapped” by an advance ticket
    train specific reservation must be a considerable “hidden” deterrent
    to travel, i.e. if affordable advance tickets offering flexibility were
    available how much greater would the demand for long distance
    Inter City rail travel be?
    Not even Multi Billionaires would wilfully pay today’s Anytime
    open full fare, so madly expensive as they are.
    Even prominent politicians won’t pay (hence George Osbourne’s
    humiliation on Virgin Trains the other year). My wife’s firm has
    actually banned ALL STAFF from travelling by rail on Anytime
    tickets, even the most senior, and, I mean STANDARD CLASS.
    I fully expect to hear to hear an announcement from Buckingham
    Palace that, in future HM The Queen will be travelling to and from
    Sandringham on Standard Class advance tickets!

  182. Edgepedia says:

    Was anyone able to get an advance ticket from Boxing Day to/from King’s Cross? I ask because I’m planning on coming back from the West Country on Easter Monday. Of course, Reading is closed, trains are diverted to Waterloo, and I can’t find any advance tickets available.

  183. Alan Robinson says:


    You didn’t say exactly which journey you are intending to
    make on Easter Monday. I have just had a look on the National Rail
    site and there are most certainly advance fares available to London .
    e.g £24.50 ~~Plymouth-London Paddington (tube from Waterloo).
    but, it’s painfully slow, five and half hours. you might be better
    off going Exeter-Waterloo, advance from £20.50.
    If you are trying to get to Reading/Thames Valley consider booking
    to Basingstoke then replacement bus?
    hope this helps.

  184. timbeau says:

    @Alan Robinson/Edgepedia

    Specify “London (all stations)” instead of Paddington and it comes up with 4h30 from Plymouth to Paddington, £21.50 advance purchase, roughly every hour. These are routed via Oxford – presumably a reversal at Banbury is involved (unless the Bicester chord is ready), and then the “New North Line”. The timings are about an hour longer than the usual route via Reading

    From Exeter
    3h30 to Waterloo by SWT for £19, or
    4h to Paddington via Bristol and Oxford also for £19 (these services are from Torbay, so don’t show up if you specify Plymouth as a start point)
    or 3h30 to Waterloo by FGW (via Westbury/Basingstoke) for £20.50,

    So for an extra £1.50 you can save half an hour without having to sit on top of 400hp of Cummins finest vibro-massage for four hours, with no less than sixteen stops to enhance the experience

    If anyone was able to buy an Advance Purchase ticket for Boxing Day, when there were no trains scheduled, they’ve been had.

  185. timbeau says:

    No, its the Plymouth trains which are going to Waterloo via Westbury/Basingstoke, and the Paignton trains via Bristol/Oxford – so my firs paragraph should read

    “Specify “London (all stations)” instead of Paddington and it comes up with 4h30 from Plymouth to Paddington, £21.50 advance purchase, roughly every hour. These are routed via Westbury and Basingstoke. The timings are about an hour longer than the usual route via Reading ”

    It was to facilitate the unusual routing via reversal at Banbury during the Reading works, to be used by the Paignton services over Easter, that brand new (GWR-style lower quadrant!) semaphore signals were installed there as recently as 2010. (last four pictures here

  186. Anomnibus says:

    @Alan Robinson:

    I’ve travelled a fair bit in continental Europe. One thing many Brits don’t realise is just how much damage was done to many towns and cities — and much of their infrastructure — particularly during WW2. For most of continental Europe, WW2 was a major land war; it wasn’t just bombers raining down fire from above, but artillery barrages, and even urban warfare in places.

    Vast tracts of rail infrastructure were pretty much destroyed and had to be rebuilt. In some cases, from scratch. That’s just one of a thousand examples. Railways, roads, and other important fabric had great lumps taken out of them. Entire towns were wiped out and had to be rebuilt. Others were simply abandoned.

    On rebuilding, they didn’t just want to replicate the original plans to the millimetre. They drew up new ones, reflecting lessons learned over the intervening years, while looking at ways to make things more efficient. However, that devastation did come with a very expensive silver lining: You don’t have to worry about getting permission to knock down streets of housing when the Luftwaffe, or the 23rd Field Regiment RA, have already done it for you.


    There’s a project near me where the plan was to raft over a railway cutting, reconnecting the communities on either side by means of a linear park. (You can see the derelict construction site in the aerial imagery. The Street View images predate the start of the work by a few months.)

    This being a small Italian town, it will come as no surprised to discover that the project woke up one day to discover that the money had mysteriously run out, with the result being that the road now has ugly hoardings all down one side, with no sign of any progress for well over a year now.

    So, our continental cousins are clearly no strangers to Sergente Strafalcione either.

  187. timbeau says:

    ….. in a small English town, projects to raft over railway cuttings get a little further before Captain Cockup comes to call

  188. Greg Tingey says:

    Oh, light damage!
    Münster 1945
    Note that the centre of Münster … “war 97% zerstört um 8/5/45.”
    Look at the remains of the buildings in the background.
    They’ve done superb rebuild-job, unlike one or two places here ….

  189. Edgepedia says:

    Thanks everyone. Sorry, I should have been more specific. I’m travelling from Taunton (Minehead really, but I’m not expecting through ticketing). National rail serves me this. The first three trains stop at Castle Cary, Westbury and Basingstoke. I checked Paignton, and the saver fare offered involved changing at Exeter for a SWT service. I also checked my old university city of Bath Spa; these travelled via Oxford, but still tickets were priced “off peak” only.

  190. Alan Robinson says:


    Ahaaa I now see what you’re referring to;-

    My suggestion;-
    Advance single Taunton – Exe St D £3.70
    Advance single Exeter SD – Waterloo £20.50

    Total £24.20 (half price of direct quoted off peak fare).
    and not much slower too.

  191. Herned says:

    Minehead does have through ticketing, and is shown on the departure screens at Taunton station. But the standard single through fares are more than the separate bus and train tickets. I’m sure someone here can explain the logic behind that

  192. Chris J says:

    Regarding European renewals and ‘adjacent line open’ operation, a major factor on the continent is the wider track centres, anything up to 3 or 4 feet more than in the UK. Trying to design UK profile track and OLE machinery that can be used without people on the ground is not a simple (or cheap) option, but it has been done.

    Even where SIMBIDS has been provided, it was rarely used for many years as the block sections were simply too long to allow sufficient capacity. As mentioned above, the crossovers and signalling have to be used regularly to maintain staff route knowledge. Interestingly, the BML collision at Copyhold Jcn about 20 years ago was partly caused because the late night up and down Victoria – Brighton trains involved were running on the opposite tracks for that very reason.

    Returning to Finsbury Park and the problems of ‘paired by direction’, that configuration is far better both operationally and for cross-platform connections, albeit at the expense of flying junctions as typified on the ECML and SWML. The most elegant solution for engineering work access is that adopted for the recent Trent Valley four-tracking – at the behest of Chris Green, as I understand. The four tracks are paired by directions, but the fast lines in the centre are fully signalled for bidirectional running, so that either pair can be used for two-track working. The up and down pairs are also spaced further apart for the same reason.

    This is in marked contrast with, and possibly a heartfelt reaction to, other parts of the WCML where the original L&NWR four-tracking has all four lines at exactly equal (and minimum) spacing with no extra clearances anywhere.

  193. timbeau says:

    There is an advantage to a through booking of course – a missed connection is their problem: if it’s a split ticket it’s your problem.

    Strange there are no advance purchase tickets available from anywhere east of Exeter, and it’s ludicrous that it’s cheaper to go to Exeter and then double back through Taunton. Would anyone notice if you just sneaked on at Taunton an hour or so later?

    (SWT are doing an £18 advance purchase fare from Bristol to Waterloo but, for reasons already explained, a class 159 is not an experience to compare with an HST, even if it is more direct)

    There are of course no restrictions on off peak tickets on Bank Holidays

  194. Mark Townend says:

    @Chris J, 30 January 2015 at 22:10

    “Even where SIMBIDS has been provided, it was rarely used for many years as the block sections were simply too long to allow sufficient capacity. . .”

    Sorry to be pedantic but most limited capacity reverse direction signalling in the UK is not, nor ever was SIMBIDS. SIMBIDS is a commonly misused term not relevent to the number of signals in the reverse direction, which is usually less than in the normal direction under full bidirectional too. SIMBIDS was a particular engineering solution devised in the 1980s for cost effective retrofitting of emergency bidirectional capability through formerly unidirectional lines equipped with relay-based automatic signalling. In particular, it saved significant equipment and cabling costs by not providing AWS inductors for the wrong direction moves and avoided suppressing the many opposite (normal) direction inductors for the wrong direction moves. That all ‘simplified’ the wiring changes no end, hence the name.

    The term itself has fallen out of use in operational instructions. One example of this technique I know is between Thingley Junction and North Somerset Junction on the GWML. Whilst the rest of the route from Didcot to Thingley and from Wootton Bassett to Stoke Gifford had been equipped in the 70s for full bidirectional working (albeit with only one block section between crossover sites in the reverse direction), the section west of Thingley on the Bath route had not been so modified. When that section came up for fitting in the 1980s, the SIMBIDS idea had been formulated and was applied to save money and hasten completion.

    The SIMBIDS technique’s incomplete AWS fitment is no longer permitted for new installations today and where it exists it will be phased out with resignalling. In any case with modern signalling the savings in circuit complexity would not apply to the same extent.

    ” . . . the problems of ‘paired by direction’, that configuration is far better both operationally and for cross-platform connections, albeit at the expense of flying junctions as typified on the ECML and SWML.”

    Just to be clear I wasn’t criticising paired by direction generally just pointing out it’s effect at the junctions in question. I think paired by use or paired by direction is very much dependent on the particular application, it’s horses for courses’ depending on arrangements and frequency of junctions, which side they’re on, room for grade separation, etc, etc. On the ECML paired by direction makes great sense.

    “The most elegant solution for engineering work access is that adopted for the recent Trent Valley four-tracking – at the behest of Chris Green, as I understand. The four tracks are paired by directions, but the fast lines in the centre are fully signalled for bidirectional running, “

    Interesting, although I’m a little skeptical the reverse direction has full headway signalling however. For the early 1990s Didcot – Swindon ‘ESIP’ Resignalling scheme, where four tracks were provided between Wantage Road and Challow, the centre mains (fasts) had two way signalling provided, but the reverse direction had limited capacity, as it had before resignalling, with only one block section between crossovers (but it definitely wasn’t SIMBIDS!). Hopefully when ETCS rolls out, a more comprehensive bi-di upgrade option will not be such a steep price jump as it can be with track-side lights on sticks.

    “. . . in marked contrast with, and possibly a heartfelt reaction to, other parts of the WCML where the original L&NWR four-tracking has all four lines at exactly equal (and minimum) spacing with no extra clearances anywhere.”

    Yes I’d noticed no ‘ten foot’ intervals between groups of tracks in many places around Crewe and Stafford. Must be hair raising working on any equipment in the middle on those fast sections – a long way to a place of safety! Today workers probably must take possession of the track affected even for the smallest of tasks, but at least the four parallel tracks make that more feasible. Some of the London terminal approaches have similar attributes – The viaduct section into Waterloo comes to mind, but the speed there is lower than the northern WCML sections, and I know there are regular scheduled off peak possessions arranged there on particular lines into which as much routine inspection and maintenance activity as possible is concentrated.

  195. Jeffy likes apples says:

    For info (Chris J and PoP i think?), drivers do not need to actually pass over a SIMBIDS section to keep it in their route knowledge. As long as they sign the route then they are considered to know it, whether used or not. My example being the BML on which i have never used the SIMBIDS but still sign the route.

    However, the main problem with SIMBIDS (and full bi-di to an extent in busy places such as the TL core) is that the service provision is now so high that it could only be used in quieter times or by cancelling a lot of services, like its sibling SLW, used rarely outside Sunday engineering work (round these parts anyway).

    [SLW is Single Line Working. PoP]

  196. Chris J says:

    @Mark Townend Many thanks for the clarification re SIMBIDS. Very useful to understand the technicalities.

    It should in theory be a lot simpler to accommodate bidirectional working with ETCS, but as Jeffy points out the capacity constraints mitigate against the volume of traffic being timetabled these days.

    A good example is the recent incident in the Channel Tunnel, which does use cab signalling – albeit TVM not ETCS – and is fully bidirectional with multiple blocks between the crossovers. With single-line working thorough two of the three intervals, capacity was reduced from a nominal 20 paths/h each way to about six. As far as I could tell from a couple of trips that was actually being achieved by running a flight of 12 trains each way in alternate hours (24 min through the block, plus 12 x 3 min headways). Hence the Eurostar delays of up to 100 min while being bunched together for the next flight.

  197. Mark Townend says:

    @Jeffy likes apples

    I agree that on busy double tracks, single line working , howsoever arranged with signalling or a pilotman is almost impossible to implement without huge disruption except where pre-planned for engineering work with a suitably thinned special timetable.

    Your use of the SIMBIDS term suggests that the bidirectional facilities on the BML are routinely known by that term – is that the case? There’s no mention of the term in the Sectional Appendix (except bizarrely relating to international form books, probably a Eurostar legacy?, and a special instructure for a rail grinder). I know the reverse direction movements on the BML south of Three Bridges have full AWS, so technically they are not and never have been SIMBIDS, although with only a single block section between crossovers in the reverse direction there is significantly lower capacity than the normal direction clearly. Most bi-di signalling in my experience is like that as it’s very difficult to justify the cost of doubling the number of headway signals over long distances for movements that only take place very rarely. The exceptions to this are usually for fairly short distances around and approaching complex stations and junctions, where full capacity in both directions can give useful flexibility for trains weaving and crossing.

    Useful reference:

  198. Mark Townend says:

    @Chris J

    Yes flighting (or the US term ‘fleeting’) is the technique to use to maximise throughput where the reverse direction signalling allows it, but as you say it can lead to a long wait if the current direction is not the way you want to go, and you need large stacking areas at each end, either a yard or a long area of plain track to queue up a flight ready for departure without blocking other traffic.

  199. Chris J says:

    My recollection is that the BML installation was locally referred to as SIMBIDS, in that it was ‘simplified’ by not having intermediate signals, even if this was not technically accurate.

    In the RI accident report for the Copyhold Jcn collision (6/11/85) it is simply referred to as “reversible signalling”. The line “is fully signalled to enable scheduled trains to be reversibly signalled if this assists in the regulation and control of trains. Its main use, however, is during engineering works or following other emergencies such as the breakdown of trains.. At the time of the accident the only booked trains using the reversible working between Balcombe Tunnel Junction and Copyhold Junction were the 01.00 from Victoria to Brighton and the 01.35 from Brighton to Victoria … the purpose of this working was to keep Victoria and Brighton drivers familiar with the reversibly signalled routes and the equipment in working order”.

  200. Graham Feakins says:

    BML and SIMBIDS -I have a note from a June 2013 meeting that “The double track between Balcombe and Copyhold Junction on the Brighton main line will re-signalled to become full bidirectional in an effort to relieve congestion and obtain increased flexibility of working.”

    It was already bi-directional but in the ‘SIMBIDS’ fashion.

  201. Mark Townend says:

    @Graham Feakins

    The Sussex Route Study identifies the Brighton line south of Three Bridges as a ‘CP6 resignalling opportunity area’ (tinted yellow on map, p.33). Clearly the Keymer Junction grade separation is something to roll up with that or at least make provision for and any improvements to bidirectional facilites could also be incorporated, although I didn’t find any specific mention of that in the document. More reverse direction block sections might allow flighting of train convoys in alternate directions over a single line whilst some kinds of engineering work took place on the adjacent track. Might work well with a series of Victoria trains (various coastal routes) and a Thameslink Brighton train closely following each other on a say a half hour flighting cycle. A service spec is needed to determine the optimum design though and whether any additional crossovers are required so an affected section is as short as possible for any particular engineering task. I feel I’m drifting a fair distance away from Finsbury Park now though!

  202. @Graham Feakins, Mark Townend

    I think one of the reasons for full bi-di signalling is that the BML is a 24/7 railway. With a decent bi-di signalling and only an hourly service for part of the night this is probably enough to keep the railway running during night maintenance and improvement works without even having to change the running times as there is already some slack in night time timings to allow for overnight work.

    Of course, for much of the BML there is the luxury of being a four track (at least) railway so it is only the critical double track section that needs significant extra supporting to keep the trains running during single line possessions.

    (Note: all this of course is on the basis that you don’t subscribe to the belief that in Britain we just close our railway down to do engineering work unlike on the continent where they handle this much better.)

  203. timbeau says:

    “close our railway down to do engineering work unlike on the continent ”

    Oh yes?

    In three recent summer holidays in Austria, four out of seven local train journeys have been by replacement bus.

  204. Pedantic of Purley says:


    Arrrgh. You misunderstand and quote out of context. I prefixed that with “on the basis that you don’t subscribe to the belief …” I was referring to the detailed discussion elsewhere where it was suggested that on the continent they do things differently and don’t close the railway. I was refuting this. Indeed the two links that you provided were ones that I myself had provided in this comment.

    Like you I have experienced disruption due to engineering works on many occasions abroad.

    [Goes to corner of room to rant and tear hair out in frustration]

  205. Anomnibus (Lewisham People's Front [Catford Branch]) says:

    For what it’s worth, our continental cousins have their own historical mistakes that aren’t cheap to sort out too.

    Take Stockholm, which has a very similar problem to south London in that all trains, regardless of type, share the same two tracks into the central station. Of course, they only have the one central terminus, not the dozen or so railway cathedrals Victorian London gorged itself on, so this is, as you can imagine, a bit of a bottleneck. Their solution has a familiar ring to it: build a new pair of tracks, in tunnel, under the city. (That four tracks to serve the entire capital city of Sweden is considered sufficient also really hammers home just how much bigger London is.)

    And finally… here’s Rome’s Line A (“Anagnina” station) having a very bad day after a particularly severe thunderstorm. Under-investment in infrastructure clearly isn’t unique to the UK.

  206. timbeau says:

    Sorry, I misconstrued your footnote as referring to mistaken beliefs in what we do over here.

  207. Southern Heights (Light Railway) says:

    @Anomnibus: the bit between T Centralen and south Stokholm has been 4 tracks for ages, 2 for the Tunnelbana, 2 for the Trains, so it would 6 track once this is done..

    @PoP: given the density of traffic in inner London all lines should be signalled as bi-di…. In addition plenty of cross-overs should be provided to allow trains to switch track as required. If an accountant asks why, the answers is simple: Cost cutting…

  208. Jeffy likes apples says:

    Mark Townsend – 1315 31/01/12.

    Interesting. Im not sure on the technicalities of the naming. Certainly from your description of SIMBIDS further up the page, the BML would appear to be slightly more advanced, using AWS at least. It was referred to SIMBIDS in training and still is but i know that does not necessarily mean this is its correct definition.

    Either way as highlighted since then, it is I believe currently being upgraded to full bi-di (though i suppose one could argue it is already full bi-di, just with long blocks!)

  209. Anomnibus says:

    @Southern Heights:

    T-Centralen is the metro station that interchanges with Stockholm’s Central (mainline) station. (The “T” stands for “Tunnelbana”.) I wasn’t referring to the metro network, but to the mainline services above.

    Trains coming up from the south of Stockholm only get two tracks to play with. (If you’re looking for them on Google or Bing Maps, look for “Centralbron”.)

  210. Southern Heights says:

    @Anomnibus: I know it well, I lived in Stockholm for a bit…

    I didn’t realise that they were 4 tracking the trains, they never seemed that busy when I was there…

  211. answer=42 says:

    They are not 4-tracking the SJ route in Stockholm; they are building a 2-track parallel tunnelled line.

  212. Gordon says:

    Chris J – 31 January 2015 at 13:53

    There were actually two services in each direction the 03:00 Vic to IG and the 03:25 IG to Vic. EACH pair of trains passed each other in the wrong direction between Copyhold Junction and Balcombe Tunnel Junction.

    After the collision at Copyhold (when the 01:00 Vic skidded from the approach to Copyhold Jnc and SPADed the protecting signal to collide with the 01:25 IG which was running under green signals.

    The current system has designed for Bi-Directional signalling but as a cost cutting measure it was reduced to SIMBIDS with only one train allowed in each section when running in the wrong direction. After Copyhold the Three Bridges ASC Special Instructions were amended so that SIMBS could not be used with trains running on the adjacent line.

  213. Melvyn says:

    GTN have published via Southern and Thameslink a publication re improving performance which just like new government put blame on some problems on Thameslink on the previous operator !

    The plans include looking at operating the new class 387 trains at 110 mph on MML part of Thameslink and cuts to some services to West Croydon.

  214. Graham Feakins says:

    Re: IG and Gordon’s recent comment – “IG” was the traditional telegraphic code for “Brighton”, which passed through generations so that the 1960’s Brighton main line stock was known as “CIG” and “BIG”, the latter with the still-missed Buffet car. Others can search for the latter Class numbers allocated to the CIG’s and BIG’s.

  215. Greg Tingey says:

    Maybe some light relief (of some sort)
    The Balcombe Jn area is due for a signalling upgrade ( to full SIMBIDS among other things, I think) … however, the project is called something like “Balcombe Jn Bi-Directional Project update” … but my signalling engineer friend tells me that “predictive text” is on his workstation/computer set-up down in deepest Croydon.
    It comes out as: “Balcombe Bidet” apparently.
    Oh dear.

  216. Gordon says:

    Graham Feakins 3 February 2015 at 00:26 Thank you (I still can’t get out of the habit after all this time)

    Greg Tingey 3 February 2015 at 09:55 My understanding is that you will be able to send a second train as soon as the first train is about mid-way through the section. At the moment you can only send a second train when the first train has cleared the whole section (to Copyhold).

  217. timbeau says:

    @Graham F
    “Others can search for the latter Class numbers allocated to the CIG’s and BIG’s.”

    No need to search: they were Class 421 and 420 respectively, the latter later changed to Class 422 – so as to avoid leading zeros when SR units were renumbered so that they started with the last digit of the class number – e.g the first 4BIG, No 7032, became (42)2101 .

  218. Anomnibus says:

    @Southern Heights:

    Apparently, Stockholm’s Central (“Centralen”) station sees about 200 000 passengers per day. That puts it only a little behind London Waterloo. So, a lot of people.

    There’s also a resilience aspect: the existing line is in need of major renewal, but there’s literally no alternative route into the city’s mainline station from the south. Building that new pair of tunnels (with stations) therefore makes even more sense in that context.

  219. Anonymous says:

    Superb analysis. And NR need to be commended for their transparency. As a recently ex-NR person myself, I would also point to the lack of a ‘performance culture’ in NR Investment Projects. This stuff is complex, it is difficult, and it is often done well, but there are few career penalties for NR managers who make mistakes.

  220. Theban says:

    “there are few career penalties for NR managers who make mistakes”

    I’m not sure whether you are still referring to project managers there but omitted the qualifier or if you meant managers in general?

    If you mean managers then I think penalties are something which should attach to mistakes. I’m somewhat undecided about whether the same is true for project managers. Often the project manager is the only person who truly understands a project. Adding liability for project failure will encourage them to be risk averse which consequently must either increase cost or make projects slower. That may not be desirable. For instance, a project to re-brand stations is probably best run at quite a high risk level to try to minimise costs.

  221. Southern Heights says:

    @Theban: I would prefer incentives to get it right, rather than penalties for getting it wrong….

  222. Chris H says:

    Well done to the ORR for putting Passenger Experience as the first chapter in the report. I sometimes detect in NR and TOCs a lingering sense of “pesky customers get in the way of us running a railway” so it is good to see that mentality being challenged in this way.

  223. Guano says:

    The main point that the ORR report makes that is different from the Network Rail report is that there should be better developed contingency plans. If it is assessed that an engineering overrun will have a high impact then there should be contingency plans (even if the assessed chances of an overrun are low).

  224. Melvyn says:

    Friday’s Evening Standard contained news of upgrade work at Finsbury Park Station which will lead to closure of Wells Terrace Entrance for redevelopment for two years. See link below –

    The news item includes details of changes to Finsbury Park Station including details of new lifts.

    Following the chaos earlier this year the article naturally concentrates on problems this will cause instead of benefits it will bring.

  225. Herned says:

    @ Melvyn

    Don’t you mean “because it’s in the Evening Standard the article naturally concentrates on problems this will cause”?

  226. RichardH says:

    Since the other 2 running lines will be similarly closed over Xmas 2015 to complete the renewal, the loss of an entrance at Finsbury Park must be making some people nervous if the same contingency plan is foreseen.

  227. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ Richard H – I doubt the Wells Terrace entrance played much of a role in terms of accessing the NR platforms given there is no direct access from there. However the loss of that access to / from the Tube will pile the pressure on elsewhere and routing thousands of extra people into Station Place, if it was full of intending NR pax, would be a real mess. Therefore your basic point is well made – whatever contingency plans do exist will require a thorough reworking to reflect the loss of capacity at Wells Terrace. The same applies when there are matches at Arsenal – the one way system working will require revision I suspect.

  228. Nathanael says:

    It seems that the *root* problem is that railway service *and* railway infrastructure work has vastly increased in recent years… with insufficient corresponding increases in staff. The service and infrastructure will continue to be very busy for years to come. Maybe hire some more staff, then!

    Perhaps the issue is “lean staffing”. Is nobody willing to keep “spare” drivers on hand on the “extra board” (as they call it in the US), being paid to be around in case extra drivers are needed? That would have addressed many of the problems.

  229. Pedantic of Purley says:


    I think you have rather missed the point. There were no spare drivers anywhere in the country. These have to be freight drivers. If you read either the article or the report the issue is precisely that. And in the planning stage Network Rail had already cut back on engineering work precisely because there were insufficient freight drivers available for the amount of engineering work they wanted to do nationwide.

  230. timbeau says:

    I understood Nathanael to be suggesting that the problem is precisely that – “lean staffing” means there is no cover for contingencies. SWT made this mistake in the early days of privatisation, with a huge number of cancellations until they got on top of it. As you say, the problem is that were no spare freight drivers. As he says, the solution is to recruit and train more drivers.

    The compartmentalisation caused by privatisation hasn’t helped. In the “bad old days” the same driver could drive a freight train on Friday, a passenger train on Saturday, and when the line is closed on Sunday and there are no freight or passenger trains to drive, he can drive a ballast train – he could even drive all three on one shift. Now all passenger TOC drivers are effectively laid off every time their line is closed.

  231. Malcolm says:

    As PoP says, the works (nationally) over Christmas were already trimmed due to shortage of freight drivers. If the companies employing the drivers had been less lean, and there had been more freight drivers available, then more work would have been scheduled (nationally), there would still have been no spare drivers on standby, and the Kings Cross work would still have overrun.

  232. timbeau says:

    @Malcolm – not necessarily: this assumes the limiting factor will always be freight drivers. Even if you had an unlimited supply of freight drivers, you could not do an unlimited amount of work because other limitations would come into lay – the number of people available on the ground, the amount of disruption acceptable (note that work at Watford over Easter is going to be postponed because the diversionary route is currently blocked at Harbury) or, simply: money.

  233. Malcolm says:

    Of course there are other constraints.

    My point was really that it was not a national shortage of freight drivers which caused the overrun. It was (with the benefit of hindsight) not having, as part of the project requisites, some spare freight drivers assigned to this piece of work. And the reason for this may well be money. You can only add so many “just in case” items to your shopping list.

    If spare freight drivers had been specified as required, and if there were actually none available nationally, then some piece of infrastructure work (possibly but not necessarily this one) would have been deferred until such time as sufficient freight drivers were available.

    To be a bit more accurate, the report does not tell us that there were no spare freight drivers assigned to the project. It could be that there were in fact more than enough drivers if everything else had gone according to plan. What is clear is that the total number of drivers available, and allocated, turned out in the event to be insufficient. And, crucially, that this looming insufficiency was not noticed early enough.

  234. I think you all don’t understand the situation. As far as I am aware there is no block on recruitment of freight drivers. The industry wants more and is prepared to pay them well – very well. The money at stake in having to cancel a freight train due to no driver is enormous. No sensible accountant would put that profit at risk for a relatively small expense in the scheme of things.

    As I understand it the problem is simply that there are only so many people of sufficient aptitude who can be persuaded to work on their own, be prepared do their own coupling and uncoupling of wagons at night in the cold and the rain when necessary, go through the necessary training and be condemned to a life where much of one’s employment involves working throughout the night.

  235. Anonymous says:

    What a load of …. Had nothing to do with “station staff” changing anything. We don’t control the signalling or path ways. More like Networkrail &GTR GN control not sticking to agreed plans also NOT communicating as they do everyday . The service delivery centre (GTR GN control) was told around 5am about the various possible problems and agreed plans, their response not interested. It’s was the Finsbury Park station manager who closed the station with the help of station staff then BTP. Also there was at least 30 members of staff on duty but because of density of crowd how could you see them?. On the news footages it’s very easy to see staff. This type of Kings Cross closure has been done before busy but no problems only difference, EC,FH,GC ran from SVG and PBO with 12 car GN shuttles. Only fault I find with station staff, is one of the GN Station mangers NOT from FPK interfered in the movement of EC TRAINS

  236. Graham H says:

    @Anonymous – people round here don’t use phrases like “…crap”. This isn’t a red top newspaper…

    [Agreed. Phrase has been snipped. LBM]

  237. Malcolm says:

    Good to get an alternative viewpoint from someone who was (I assume) there. I would just like to mention that the original article did not actually say that the station staff (on their own) changed anything. It said “station staff at Finsbury Park and the Kings Cross signal box had agreed between each other that …“.

    Of course, this, like anything else in the article, might still be incorrect or misleading. The whole debacle was examined carefully afterwards, and John Bull will have had access to conclusions drawn from many of those investigations, but there is often more than one version of any story as complex as this.

  238. RayK says:

    @ Anonymous 14 May at 18:04
    I think that it would be helpful if you were to take a deep breath and rewrite all that you said with greater clarity. There are too many ambiguities in what you said for me to see what you meant. A good, clear headed, first hand account is usually helpful.

  239. Greg Tingey says:

    This article from “Rail Engineer” makes for interesting reading, too ….

  240. andrej says:

    It seems that putting together an emergency timetable requires route knowledge that the people working in the route management network control no longer seem to posses.
    The solution is simple:
    All EC, GC, HT diesel sets can reverse in the Dalston Kingsland branch.
    Electric intercity services should be terminated at either Stevenage or Peterborough.
    Regional Cambridge branch services terminate at Hitchin and reverse there back to where they came from. Regional services from Peterborough call all stations from Hitchin to WGC and run express to Finsbury Park P4 to reverse.
    All stops services from WGC go down to Moorgate. The services from the Hertford loop also run to/from Moorgate. And could continue with their extension to Letchworth / Royston but may not reverse at Stevenage, as it is full with terminating intercity services.
    It is so simple I can’t see why they had such difficulty?

  241. Anonymous says:

    Obviously not frontline rail staff, merely arm chair spotters and seminsers

    In a way that’s true, but in the media and tory MPs on twitter “Station Staff” were to solely to blame also BTP didn’t close the station, the station manager did. Yes I am probably mixing up many different story’s and articles.

    The railway is full ambiguities but the reality is SDC control didn’t listen to local management and frontline staff who predicted chaos and overcrowding, ie DON’T run all services from FPK, which if this advice had been hd the fallout from the overrun would of been less sereve. Big work site freight drivers, engineering equipment failure etc but there’s was lot focus on “station Staff”. I have a life, they are the things that happened, probably i have mixed up many articles, reports etc, I have sqashed a response into one blob but others can see what I am getting at

    Movement of trains and passengers is never simple however when a large closure of Kings Cross ie between KGX and FPK has been done before, where the bulk of services were started from SVG and PBO therefore it worked, then it should be very simple with no difficulty

Leave a Comment

In order to make LR a pleasant place for discussion, please try to keep comments polite and, importantly, on topic! Comments that we feel do not meet these criteria, or that contain language that could cause some people trouble at work, may be moderated or deleted.

acceptable tags

* (This won't be shown, but you can link it to an avatar if you like)

Recent Articles

Friday Reading List – 17 March


As anyone looking to properly understand London’s transport needs and network knows, context, background and best-practice are important. As readers might imagine, behind the scenes here at LR Towers we thus spend a lot of time sharing links and reading

Read more ›

LR Magazine Issue Five: Overgrounded


With print copies now being prepped for dispatch to subscribers at LR Towers, London Reconnections Magazine Issue 5: Overgrounded is now available to purchase in our online store. Transport is politics, politics is transport You don’t get transport without politics.

Read more ›