Rail chiefs defend track allegations
RAIL chiefs today hit back at claims that passengers were being put in danger by broken track.They said pictures of track joints with bolts missing were not taken on the main line between East Anglia and London.
By Paul Geater
RAIL chiefs today hit back at claims that passengers were being put in danger by broken track.
They said pictures of track joints with bolts missing were not taken on the main line between East Anglia and London.
And photographs apparently showing damaged points between Colchester and Chelmsford left them puzzled – there are no points of that type on that stretch of line.
"We are doubtful about some of the pictures," said a Railtrack spokeswoman.
"Now that we have studied them, they have raised many questions."
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The most startling picture published in the last few days has been of a fishplate holding two stretches of track together with a bolt missing lying beside the track.
"There are no track joints like that on the mainline between London and Norwich, we have continuously-welded track that doesn't join up like that.
"It looks as if that picture was taken at a siding," said the spokeswoman.
And the only part of the mainline network in East Anglia with points like those pictured is in Norwich.
Meanwhile train operator Anglia Railways said there was no danger to passengers using the East Suffolk line between Ipswich and Lowestoft even though wooden sleepers at Darsham station, near Saxmundham, are rotting away.
"The track is still safe and structurally sound, even though it is clearly not an ideal situation," said Anglia's Peter Meades.
"Track maintenance has slipped since Hatfield because much of Railtrack's effort has been concentrated on replacing track.
"We are urging them to step up normal maintenance, but in the meantime the situation is safe."
Mr Meades said the state of the track was now much better than it was in the days of British Rail in the 1980s and early 1990s.
"They had a policy of spot replacement of sleepers on lines like the East Suffolk route, which meant they replaced one in three sleepers – enough to hold the track together."
Mr Meades said trains would travel no faster than five miles an hour over the tracks in Darsham station itself. The speed limit on the East Suffolk line is 50mph – and the trains are relatively lightweight putting less stress on the track.
Most of the track on the Felixstowe branch, which handles heavy freight to and from Britain's busiest container port, was replaced when the line was upgraded three years ago.
A Railtrack spokeswoman said that much of the track on the East Suffolk line – including that at Darsham station – would be renewed within the next financial year.
Guy Dangerfield, secretary of the official passengers' watchdog for eastern England, said they had received assurances about the safety of the rail network in the region.
But he understood Railtrack's doubts about the pictures.