Christmas and New Year Closures - Is it as it Seems?

The rail industry advertised that 50,000 extra trains were running over the Christmas and New Year holiday just passed so looked just at where these trains came from, and examines one set of engineering works carried out over the holiday.

Beware of the Advertising!

Everyone is used to major engineering works over holiday periods and many fantastic achievements are carried out while the rail network is shut for a couple of days at minimum inconvenience to the majority of rail users.

But, the advertising before Christmas 2011 suggested that between 50,000 and 54,000 more trains would be running over the festive period when compared with Christmas 2010.

How can this be because it is a well-known fact that some train companies do not have enough trains to provide seats for everybody. It could be argued that the extra trains were really just what was supposed to be running rather than extra services, which many consider to mean that extra trains over and above the timetable would be operating.

Genuine Improvements

The advertising also claims that improvements are being made, again which is to an extent, true. Projects such as Thameslink and the Reading station area upgrade have been featured on this website and these are genuine enhancements. They also need several days at a time when there are no trains to remove and replace bridges and points for example.

Maintenance or Upgrade?

Then the claims start to collapse when it seems that routine maintenance being carried out is described as an enhancement when in years gone by, it was described as engineering works.

Closures for Avoidable Rectification Works

Then of course there are the works that take place to make good previously poorly delivered works. One set of such works took place right in front of the new Network Rail Headquarters at Milton Keynes over Christmas. The Milton Keynes station area had £250m spent on it three years ago which has given better operational flexibility, a new platform and greater reliability in general.

In the weeks before Christmas, huge heaps of track ballast appeared alongside the new track and the whispers started. This track and the new platform 6 at Milton Keynes Central opened on December 27 2008 and just under three years later, on December 17, the yellow plant road/rail track machinery arrived ready to replace the track. .

Staff were asked to book on at 1800hrs but the track possession commenced at 2200hrs so they had to kill 4 hours after signing on for duty. Then some plant did not work and was fixed by on-site fitters but the lack of a driver prevented the machinery being put to work.

A week later over the Christmas period, the track and ballast was removed, and new track was laid on a new track formation as the one opened just three years earlier had been declared a failure as a result of the drainage not working as per the design.

The ballast was loaded onto several ballast trains on an adjacent track just to north of station opposite the new Network Rail HQ

The track was relaid and opened for a day on New Year’s Eve at 50mph then closed again over New Year for tamping and final alignment positioning. It re-opened on January 3rd at a reduced linespeed to be increased to 125mph in the next few weeks.

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