An explanation and apology


Dave Penney Route director, Central 

I know many passengers who travel on the Cross City line between Lichfield and Birmingham New Street were majorly disrupted yesterday.

I’m sorry you were not able to travel as normal. I want to explain what happened and why we were not able to reopen the railway sooner.

At around 11.30pm on Wednesday night, a tree fell onto the railway near Wylde Green station from neighbouring land. It was raining and windy, and after the recent relentless bad weather, the ground is soaked and trees are not rooted as firmly as they could be.

We have recently carried out vegetation work though this area to reduce the risk of falling trees affecting train services and passengers. It was not always popular with some people who lived nearby. We do this work to reduce the risk of this type of issue occurring and to keep passengers moving. But we can’t enforce tree cutting onto our neighbours, unless the trees have been identified as being dangerous.

When the tree fell, it tore through the overhead power lines, effectively blocking the railway and wiping out the power source for the electric trains.

Clearing a fallen tree is not an issue. Repairing flattened power lines and reinstating them is the real challenge.

What did we do to fix the problem?

We had to switch the power off first. The lines carry 25,000kv of electricity and they have to be off before we can safely go near them. Then we had to get our staff to site and access the location, which was 20mins down the line from the nearest access point from the road network.

We had to remove the tree from the wires and the track. After assessing the extent of the damage and planning the repairs, we had to get the parts to site and then fit them, before testing. We used specialist access vehicles, known as road rail vehicles, to get to the damaged area and then provide access to the overhead lines for our staff. These vehicles look like normal road vehicles but they are also fitted with sets of wheels to ride along train tracks, in the same way a train would.

This sounds relatively simple when reeling off a list like the above. But the wires were snapped and parts of the structures which hold them up had to be replaced.

It’s a challenging repair in normal circumstances, made more difficult in the middle of the night when it’s wet and windy. We worked throughout Thursday so we were able to reopen around 6.30pm that night.

The ultimate factor in all of the above is safety – both for the teams repairing the railway, and passengers. This is essential and we always balance this requirement with doing the work as quickly as possible.

Balancing tree preservation with running a safe, reliable railway

As one of the largest landowners in Britain, we take our environmental responsibilities seriously. We cut down and prune where there is a significant risk of disruption of falling trees blocking lines or damaging the power lines. We inspect our trees, and those of our neighbours, to identify future problems.

We also check for wildlife before carrying out work so we cause as little impact on the environment as we can. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but this type of disruption which has affected thousands of people is a clear example of why we must continue to do this type of work.

Passengers can get the latest travel information at National Rail Enquiries or claim Delay Repay from West Midlands Railway

I hope this explanation is useful to understand why there was disruption. Again, thank you for your patience while we fixed the issue.

Dave Penney
Central route director