‘Network Fail’ in the dock

This will be an all too familiar scene tomorrow (Saturday).
This will be an all too familiar scene tomorrow (Saturday).

Network Rail (NR) was in the dock at 10 Downing Street on Wednesday accused of failures to alert emergency services that Spalding risks gridlock from massive numbers of trains on the line over five weekends.

South Holland and The Deepings MP and transport minister John Hayes and South Holland council leader Gary Porter were joined by emergency services and ‘Network Fail’ top brass.

Coun Porter said NR admitted barriers could go down for “four minutes in every ten or 12 minutes” starting on Saturday, but it will now publish times for the greatest delays so emergency services and motorists can plan ahead.

He said: “There has been no communication – this plan is being done on the hoof.”

Mr Hayes also blamed NR for a communications failure, but said it was “a really productive meeting” and measures are being put in place so emergency services are better informed in future.

Barrier down time at level crossings will be compounded by closure of Spalding’s Winsover Road level crossing for demolition of the signal box, from 10pm on Saturday to midday on Sunday, but NR told county highways about that work.

On February 16 Coun Porter was the first to alert emergency services about the 100-plus trains that will pile through South Holland on Saturday.

He’s worried about the threat of gridlock, the risk to residents on the western side of Spalding, with emergency vehicles possibly facing big detours, and safety of passengers and rail staff with so many extra trains using Vernatt’s Bridge, which is due to be replaced.

NR say it has diverted trains through Spalding 17 times since 2010, but Coun Porter can’t remember such a huge number using the line in the last few years.

An East Midlands Ambulance Service spokesman said on Tuesday that Coun Porter broke the news and the head of its Lincolnshire operations had “not had anything from Network Rail”.

She said: “The talks tomorrow (in Downing Street) are crucial for us so we can assess exactly how it is going to affect us.”

South Holland community policing Insp Jim Tyner said on Tuesday: “Neither I as the local inspector, or our emergency planning team at headquarters, were aware of these plans until I saw them in the local media. Local contingency plans are being put in place.”

A Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue spokesman didn’t reveal how the service learned of the influx of trains, but said: “Things like roadworks, work on crossings, etc, don’t have any real impact on our response, as we will just deploy a crew that is best placed to help.”

The Spalding Guardian didn’t get advance notice from NR, although Coun Porter had a letter dated February 18 from a Network Rail official saying: “My emergency planner will be contacting the relevant emergency services to make sure that they are informed of these diverted services. My communications team has already provided information to local media and will be adding to this in the coming days.”

Yesterday an NR spokesman admitted: “As this is a standard diversionary route which has been used 17 times since 2010 we would not press release the activity.”

The spokesman said NR has a legal duty to tell Lincolnshire Local Resilience Forum about major works, such as closure of whole lines, but not “every time we divert trains on a ‘normal’, regularly used, diversionary route”.

He said the company had on February 18 “as a courtesy” informed organisations including police, fire and ambulance services, county highways, Western Power Distribution and Anglian Water.

Earlier this week, the company said Vernatt’s Bridge is safe for additional trains.

• The website www.realtimetrains.co.uk reveals 113 trains will come through Spalding on Saturday – most diverted from the East Coast mainline because of multiple engineering works – and there will be between six and seven an hour from 5.30am to 10pm.

Diversions were due to take place between 1.30am on Saturday and midday on Sunday on five weekends up to and including March 28. But Network Rail said yesterday on Wednesday the diversions will start at 1.25pm on Saturdays March 14 and 23, running to midday the next days.

Services diverted here this weekend include Grand Central (14), Hull Trains (ten) and freight and East Coast (both up to three an hour). East Midlands Trains will run up to two services an hour as normal.