Gibb report says industrial action is the primary cause of Southern Rail issues
The long awaited report into the issues on the Southern Rail network which has been compiled by Network Rail non-executive director Chris Gibb and dated 30 December 2016, was finally published on 22 June 2017.

The report concludes that no single party is wholly to blame for the strain the system has come under. “Many parties have, with the best of intentions, driven elements of change, all of which have come together at this time to cause the overall system to fail,” Gibb states.

These include a programme of infrastructure enhancements, a franchise agreement which committed GTR to enacting driver only operation on its trains, strong opposition by the RMT and ASLEF unions, not enough drivers at the start of the franchise, and procurement of new Class 700 trains and associated maintenance agreement.

Gibb does, however, conclude that the primary cause of the system integrity failure was the industrial action by RMT and ASLEF members. “If any other part of the system has a fault, the strike and overtime ban magnifies this many times.”

The report makes a number of recommendations to improve the running of the franchise and calls on the unions to attempt to enact change through engagement with GTR. Recommendations include the introduction of a system operator to increase coordination and integration between different operators and Network Rail; spending £300m before the end of 2018 to improve system infrastructure and deliver the new 2018 Thameslink timetable; and the transfer of the East Croydon-Milton Keynes service to London Overground/TfL.

Arriva wins €550m Swedish rail franchise
Arriva has won an eight year contract to run the Pågatågen train services in Sweden. The contract was awarded by the transport authority of the Skåne region following an open competitive tender, and will run until December 2026. Arriva has run services on the system in Sweden’s southernmost county since 2007 and had already secured a two-year extension on its original franchise through to 2018.

For the first time, Arriva will be responsible for fleet maintenance and for introducing new trains into service. The number of trains will increase from 66 to 99 trains with more service connections. Alongside this Arriva is developing a new digital mobility portal – Arriva Tågportal – which will enable better coordination of services and improve passenger information. These improvements are expected to see passenger numbers rise significantly from 21.2m (2015).

Commenting on the contract win, Arriva Group CEO Manfred Rudhart said: “Mainland Europe is an important growth engine for Arriva and so to secure the new rail contract for Pågatågen against tough competition is a significant win for us.

“Over 21m passenger journeys are made every year on this franchise connecting people to some of Sweden’s major cities, including Malmö, Helsingborg, Lund, and Trelleborg,” he concluded.

New software tool from the University of Huddersfield to help reduce SPADS
SPADSNew work by researchers at the Institute of Railway Research, Huddersfield, has resulted in a software tool that could lead to a reduction in the risk of trains passing red signals, incidents known as SPADS.

By analysing live feeds from the UK rail network and recording more than a 137m incidences of trains approaching signals, the researchers developed an algorithm that provides an accurate figure for the number of occasions on which signals are at red as a train approaches. This provides important data for understanding the likelihood of SPADS, and working on ways to prevent them. This is now being developed to enable operators to examine the number of times individual signals are red as trains approach. Julian Stow of IRR said: “This will allow operators to query individual signals, looking at factors such as time of the day or week, so they can start exploring how the red approach rate is influenced by how the railway is running, and that has the potential for a much better estimation of SPAD risk at individual signals.” This will have implications for driver training over specific routes and will also be valuable data for timetable planning and other strategic issues. The software tool, known as RAATS, will be freely available from RSSB soon.

Alstom opens the UK’s largest rolling stock modernisation plant
Alstom has officially opened a vast new centre for train modernisation at Widnes in Cheshire.Alstom

With over 13,000 square metres of space, the site is the largest rolling stock modernisation facility in the UK, and closely embraces Industry 4 principles.

Work is about to begin on the facility’s first contract, a €28m re-paint for the 56-strong fleet of Class 390 tilting Pendolino trains used by Virgin on the West Coast Main Line. The first Pendolino has been delivered to the modernisation halls. Industry 4.0 features of the contract include innovative virtual reality painting simulators that the team will be trained on and will use to validate the work.

Alstom is recruiting locally, and the majority of the 80-strong team being assembled for the painting contract have come from Liverpool and other local areas such as Warrington. This includes five new apprentices who have completed level 2 apprenticeships at Riverside College, and will be completing their level 3 qualification on this project.

Garrandale global expansion
UK rail engineering and design specialist, Garrandale, has opened its first overseas division in Melbourne, Australia, following the successful delivery of a $8.3bn contract for an automatic waterrecycling carriage wash system for the Sydney Metro Northwest. The long-term plan, according to MD Tim Brown, is to for 50% of the business to be overseas in 3 years’ time.

South-West transport corridor collaboration
Meeting in Tbilisi, the heads of Georgian, Iranian and Azerbaijani railroads have agreed to create a working group to coordinate efforts to create a new South-West Transport Corridor through the region, connecting Europe to India and the Persian Gulf. The current focus is to reduce distance and delivery time for freight. At present, it takes 30-40 days to transport freight between these markets.

Perpetuum cements Chinese expansion
Remote condition monitoring specialist Perpetuum has signed an agreement with Beijing Sheenline Group to provide wheelset, bogie and track information services, plus WSNs and DCs, and design advice for installation and commissioning. Sheenline will also be deploying Perpetuum equipment throughout China over the next two years, targeting very high speed, metros and freight applications.

Go-Ahead wins another German franchise
Baden-Württemberg public transport authority and the Bavarian rail authority have awarded the Go-Ahead Group a contract to operate the Network 3A Murrbahn routes. The network, which provides commuter services and links between Stuttgart and Nuremberg, is currently operated by Deutsche Bahn. The 13-year franchise, due to commence in December 2019, is the second contract and third network in Germany that Go- Ahead has been awarded.

Construction freight moves to rail
The volume of construction traffic moved by rail freight has grown by 7% in the year to April 2017, reaching a record high of 4.25bn tonne-km, according to statistics from ORR. The increase was driven by a buoyancy in the construction sector, investment from freight customers and operators in new high volume equipment, longer trains and additional services.

Glasgow Subway earns innovation award
Glasgow Subway operator SPT has been awarded the Holyrood Connect Award for Innovation for developing and implementing Axiom. The Axiom ICT system has transformed Subway operations. The fully integrated paperlite system provides real time information across the organisation, freeing staff up to concentrate on customer service, and delivering significant savings.

15,000 rail staff trained by Samaritans
Around 1 in 6 rail staff has now been trained by the Samaritans to prevent people taking their lives on the railway. In the year to March 2017, 1,593 interventions were made across the rail network, 40% up on the previous year. During that period, suicides and suspected suicides on the network dropped from 253 to 237. Suicides have fallen by 18% over the last two years.

Bidders named for West Coast franchise
The DfT has named the companies bidding for the West Coast Partnership franchise – which will operate the West Coast Main Line and design and run the initial HS2 services to Birmingham. They are: First Trenitalia West Coast, a JV between First and Trenitalia; MTR West Coast Partnership, a JV between MTR and Guangshen Railway Co; and West Coast Partnership, a JV between Stagecoach, Virgin and SNCF.