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40565 Metric system not applied in the West Highlands region

March 2010 in Network Rail and Suppliers

tagged Equipment Method of working Knowledge Skills and experience Scotland

A reporter is concerned about the continued use of imperial measurement in the West Highlands region, where the radio electronic token block (RETB) is used. 

Despite the new metric system being introduced and implemented throughout the entire UK railway network at the end of last year (2007), imperial measurements has continued in the West Highlands region, north of Helensburgh, when signallers and drivers communicate with each other.

Normally, freight train drivers use the computer-generated train list posted in their cabin to communicate the length of their freight train to signallers. However, when entering the section at Helensburgh, drivers have to convert this length into feet manually.

As a single track railway section, it is important for signallers to know the exact length of trains to ensure the passing of trains at stations occurs safely. The reporter is concerned that a freight train driver might miscalculate the conversion length of their train which could mean an on-coming train is allowed to pass it unsafely, resulting in a collision or side slip occurring. The reporter is aware of such an incident occurring with an excursion train.

  • Why have Network Rail pursued the use of the imperial method in communicating freight train lengths in the West Highlands region when this has changed in the rest of the UK?
  • If Network Rail intend on continuing with this practice in this region, could conversions be provided to drivers for ease of communication and to reduce the risk of miscalculations occurring?
  • Could Network Rail also brief signallers to use metres instead of feet?

Response from Network Rail

Network Rail would like to thank the reporter for raising their concern regarding the use of imperial measurement in the West Highlands region. Network Rail's response to the questions posed is as follows:

Could conversions be provided to drivers for ease of communication and to reduce the risk of miscalculations occurring?

On investigation all freight drivers have a copy of conversion tables attached to their working manuals Table A (Converts SLUs into feet/metres). As an action the Local Operations Manager at Fort William, will engage with the freight users to check that all their drivers have copies of the conversion tables.

Why have Network Rail pursued the use of the imperial method in communicating freight train lengths in the West Highlands region when this has changed in the rest of the UK?

Network Rail is aware that some may perceive this as an inconsistency. However, the Signallers RETB Regulations (Aug 2008) 3.2 states;

"When a train is stationary and is ready to enter the system, the driver will establish radio contact with the signaller, and:

  1. Advise the signaller of the train identity and radio number of the train or mobile equipment.
  2. Tell the signaller the location of the train, and the length of the train in feet."  However, it is worth mentioning that whatever system of measurement is used the most important aspect is for train crew always to report whether a train is "in clear" at a crossing loop - if necessary, carrying out a physical check to confirm this, as required by the RETB instructions.

The Drivers RETB Regulations (Aug 2008) 2.4 states;
"When your train is ready to enter the system, you must tell the signaller:

  • the identity of your train
  • the radio number of your cab display unit
  • the total length of your train in feet"

Could Network Rail also brief signallers to use metres instead of feet?

The answer is yes, however the most important aspect is for train crew always to report whether a train is "in clear" at a crossing loop - if necessary, carrying out a physical check to confirm this, as required by the RETB instructions. By undertaking this basic but important task the risk of a collision or side swipe as the reporter mentions will be reduced. To change this formally we would have to change some of our systems and processes as well as briefing our people and this is not considered necessary at this time.

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