John Halsall, managing director, Southern region
This week has been an incredibly tough week for our passengers on our Wessex route due to several problems on the railway, the biggest of which has been the derailed freight train at Eastleigh that is blocking both lines.
First of all, I want to offer my heartfelt apologies to our passengers, not just for the derailed freight train, but several other incidents which have caused widespread disruption.
I know that when underlying performance is so poor these words may seem hollow, so let me give you assurance that my team and I are doing everything possible. We have been working round the clock to get the line open again through Eastleigh, but it’s not an easy job.
We had six wagons, each weighing in excess of 52 tonnes each, which we had to lift using hydraulic jacks. These are much like the jack you would use when changing a tyre on your car, but instead of using human power, it uses liquid compressed under intense pressure to lift much heavier objects.
We had to use several of these jacks (pictured) for each wagon to get it off the ground, before carefully swinging each one back onto the rails.
It has been an incredibly complex job and has taken much longer than we initially expected. One of the challenges you won’t immediately realise is that when the train derailed, the carriages twisted and turned. So when they are jacked up they are under a lot of tension, which makes the recovery even trickier.
We managed to re-rail the final trains in the early hours of this morning and move them away, however that’s not the end of the story.
The sheer weight of these trains coming off the rails and onto the tracks has caused significant damage (see picture) to the infrastructure, including the track, and signalling equipment – not just the lights but the cabling and power – as well as the power supply to the 750-Volt third rail, which supplies electricity to the trains so they can run.
Therefore, we need to carry out extensive repairs before we can begin to run trains again. In fact, it is going to be quicker for our passengers if we build a temporary track to get trains on the move again, then we can focus on the full repair to the damaged track section which will take more time to complete.
We are working to get the railway open again for Monday morning. However, I’m receiving regular updates from my team and we are constantly challenging each other to get the railway open sooner if possible. I know Monday is a world away, but despite drawing people and equipment from across the country, I can’t currently see any way of getting this fixed any faster.
So why did a freight train derail?
We’re in the middle of an independent RAIB investigation into what happened, plus our own internal review, so it would be wrong for me to speculate on unproven theories about the cause. Our focus is on getting the railway fixed and open to passengers. But we are keen to learn important lessons to avoid similar incidents in the future, however these investigations do take some time.
I know many of our passengers will probably think this is just a list of excuses. That’s honestly not my intention. I simply want to provide some explanation and continue trying to be as honest and transparent as we can with our information.
Everyone here in my team is bitterly disappointed with the service over the last few days and we’re doing everything we can to make it right.