From time to time I often feel the urge to comment on rail matters. There are often lots of overlapping issues with the large network infrastructure of the water and sanitation sector, policy, regulation etc. etc.

In a fairly dense city like London, where the networks of both utility services criss-cross and interact with each other to a very high degree, the overlap is quite noticeable. One example of this is playing out in the UK media right now. The BBC has reported it as follows:

  • 23 January – a Thames Water water main burst, flooding a tunnel connecting St Pancras International and Farringdon train stations in London, making it impassable for many trains;
  • 26 January – Thameslink Bedford-to-Brighton rail line operator says it is unable to run any trains in London until the problem is fixed; five of its trains are damaged by flood water;
  • 29 January – Network Rail says it will issue Thames Water with a ‘multi-billion pound’ bill, after 1,000 cancelled trains and 133 hours of delays, having ‘exhausted’ its patience with Thames Water;
  • 29/30 January – Thames Water and Network Rail begin what the BBC described as ‘tit-for-tat corporate wrangling over whose fault the disruption is and whose responsibility the flooded tunnel was’. Apparently flood water from the original burst mains, and subsequently identified further leaks, was unable to drain away due to poorly maintained drains for which Network Rail is responsible;
  • 30 January – Thameslink service in London resume, after almost a week of disruption to trains.

In pictures, here’s the flooded tunnel:

Photo: Flooded Clerkenwell tunnel between St Pancras and Farringdon, London. Source: BBC (via Govia).

And here’s the blocked Network Rail drains that Thames Water claim exacerbated problems, and have apparently been an identified issue since as early as 2007:

Photo: Blocked drainage apparently under Network Rail’s responsibility. Source: Thames Water.

None of this wrangling will impress passengers affected by the delays, I imagine! It’s also symptomatic of the fragmented responsibilities and accountability for planning, investments and maintenance across different utility sectors. This is permitted by the scattered ownership and operation of these two privatised utility sectors and their regulatory arrangements.

The ideal outcome here would be some requirements for cooperative, long-term actions across these (and other related) utilities and their regulatory frameworks. The media so far doesn’t seem to have stressed this vital aspect though…

Duncan Thomas

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s