Thu Oct 23 2014

Time to launch BBW 2011 (that’s bin bag and weedkiller, by the way) – Wednesday March 23

Categories: RAILBlog

There’s an old saying that you only ever get the one chance to make a first impression – and it’s true. So, I wonder what first impressions railway passengers seeing sights like this for the first time take away with them as they ponder their maybe-costly rail fares? I was prompted to write this blog having mowed my lawn for the first time last weekend and was appalled to see weeds sprouting already. It can’t be long before they do likewise on the main lines of Britain. But will NR do a better job this year? It rsuely cannot do worse than in previous years.

Tony Hill sent me this picture showing Bodmin Parkway in the summer of 2010, and I use it now in order to hopefully draw new Network Rail Chief Executive David Higgins’ attention to this worsening problem of weeds and neglect, which not only makes the railway look awful, it’s also a major safety hazard.

It’s bad enough that track maintenance and renewal staff are so poorly managed that they too-often leave the trackside awash with rubber sleeper pads, plastic raillchair ferrules, heaps of ballast, lengths of rail, abandoned sleepers, part used and empty grease tins, bags of rail keys….you name it…I’m sure you’ve seen this sort of debris. All of makes marvelous missiles for morons to throw at trains or place on the track, with the consequent risk of derailment. This problem frequently benefits from lip service but rarely a determined tidy-up.

It’s maybe no surprise that some of the people looking over the boundary fence and seeing this self-inflicted mess, and seemingly abandoned track, conclude that it’s therefore OK to chuck old prams, mattresses, sofas, sideboards and all manner of domestic garbage onto cutting sides. If the railway is left looking like a tip as an output of its ‘asset management’ then, other people will use it as one too.

The solution is obvious and whenever I have raised this with Railtrack, and then Network Rail – many, many times - over the last 15 years, I was always given to believe that contract managers from outside companies, or NR foremen when it was an inside job, were under orders to tidy up a worksite site before they left.

In which case the question is blindingly obvious: why don’t they do it? Maybe now, under the new Higgins regime, they may be persuaded to take notice of their responsibilities and just do as they’re expected. I’ve met Higgins a couple of times and whilst I can’t claim to know him well he does leave me with the impression that whilst he is determined to push decision-making and responsibility out and down from the centre, he will not be an easy touch if you don’t do what you’re paid for. If I’m right, then maybe after there have been a few ‘meetings without coffee’ with those who let the side down, the word will go round and lineside debris will finally start to disappear. So, go for it David and make an example of a few people ‘pour encourager les autres.’ Or will you too turn a blind eye to such flagrant dereliction of duty…? Somehow, I suspect not.

Then, as the new guv’nor can hopefully tackle the weeds and buddelia! To see the Great Western Main Line in this condition is deeply depressing – but sadly, given NR’s complacent record on this over the last few years, I cannot say it’s surprising. It’s become par for the course in too many places.

Impressions count. You don’t see grass verges at airports allowed to get into this state because an untidy infrastructure might just give the impression of untidy management – not least untidy safety management.

There are all sorts of anecdotal and genuinely process-driven and tickbox reasons why stations and station areas become weed-infested. These include station staff being banned from going on the track these days with backpack type sprayers. I’m also told that weedkiiling trains cannot spray whilst travelling through stations because of the risk of contaminationand so turn off the treatment as they pass through the platforms. So no-one does it!

The end result is that often the most weed-infested, unkempt pieces of track are slap bang in station areas where waiting passengers can spend their time musing on why the track looks so uncared for.

It oughtn’t to be beyond the wit of man to make sure that the most visible tracks on the network are kept free of the weeds which make it look like no-one cares.

As for buddleia? I’ll be dealing with the soon in RAIL. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, please send me all your pictures of loineside debris, mess, garbage, buddliea – and, of course, weeds in the track.

Let’s try and get some action on this in 2011.


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Comment by:richard yeomans
Comment left:10:03:40
Jul 16, 2011

Excellent piece as I'seen countless bags of expensive clips left at the lineside and (exclusively) I've a nice railtrack shovel left in the hedge alongside the WCMLl Not to mention all the litter you state and more... even a wheel set from a crash over 20years ago and a plastic hut too. this mess has gone on long enough RichardQ3FXA


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