Long DelaysIn recent weeks, some routes in Britain have suffered spectacularly long delays. A signal failure at Woking on 10th June caused trains to be stalled for four hours during the evening. Things got so bad that people abandoned the trains and started walking. The third rail current had to be turned off and passengers were then forced to go back to the train and wait another hour.
Another incident at Kentish Town on 26th May caused another long delay. A train defect left people stuck on trains for over five hours. Passengers were left trapped with insufficient cool air, no water and no communication after a power failure left their train stuck in a tunnel. Conditions got so bad that some passengers decided to force open the doors and walk along the track. Then the Rail Accident Investigation Board got involved when the train was moved with the doors left open.
Get the trains moving!In the Woking case, it should have been possible to get the trains moving to the nearest stations without signals. There are procedures for doing this and they've been around for years but, in today's segregated railway, responsibility for moving trains is split between train operators (TOCs) and Network Rail. TOCs are quite happy for their trains to sit safely, not moving while the delay minutes pile up, because they get paid compensation for it. The compensation they pay to passengers is much less.
In any case, not many staff are trained these days to move trains by handsignal. It's no longer possible for the signaller to phone the stationmaster and organise getting trains on the move. The modern stationmaster is a "duty manager", largely a bureaucrat with little or no operating training. He or she wouldn't be capable of organising handsignalling or getting routes clipped and scotched.
As for the Kentish Town train failure, the train in question had two separate units, both capable of independent operation. One could have been used to move the other, if that was defective. They're designed to do this. Why didn't it happen? Again it looks like a lack of suitably trained people.
Get Training!Long delays in train operations are now commonplace and, with more fare increases in the pipeline, passengers (I refuse to call them "customers") are going to get more vocal about delays, particularly when they're trapped for hours in trains without power and information. It's time train operators and Network Rail had their staff trained to move trains under failure conditions. Controllers, train drivers and station staff need to be able to talk together and arrange emergency operations.
I think a logical place to start would be the Institution of Railway Operators, the IRO. They have a cadre of trainers working on certificate, diploma and degree courses in concert with Glasgow Caledonian University and they are well placed to set up training in practical railway operations under failure conditions. It's desperately needed.