The Golden Railway is a company that is growing and evolving. Different situations bring about new procedures and scrap certain, older procedures. Since the system is man made, there will inevitably be incidents where certain components fail – sometimes bringing the service to its knees.
This was the second day in a row of such an occurrence. To give you a bit of background, the day before, inside the tunnel, a turnout’s moveable frog blade had broken in half (all of the Golden Railway’s turnouts are high speed turnouts on the mainline). To replace or rather repair such a component is a time consuming process known as the ‘Thermite Process’ and a job such as this can take up to 6 hours. Being in the tunnel, to get to the specific location is challenging during service hours as there are a plethora of tools and components that need to be taken to the site. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that the Golden Railway recently moved to a new 10 minute headway between trains – down two minutes from the previous time of 12 minutes. This translates to an extra train in each direction in an hour.
The fracture happened during service, and two trains were isolated from the rest of the network. Control implemented a shuttle service using one of these trains between Park and Rosebank stations and implemented a Bus Shuttle between Sandton and Rosebank. Traffic had to be stopped between The affected stations because the affected area is a single track line. In the evening when the service came to an end, the trains were stabled at Park Station. Control turned the power off and work commenced on the problem turnout.
That evening, Bennie gave me, Bronky and another Driver a call to ask that we sign on earlier at 03:00 at the Depot the next day so that he could transport us with the van to Park Station to start up and prepare the trains and begin service from Park. My original sign on time was 03:49 and this shift is normally the Sweeper Train to Park. Bronky was suppose to be the Deadhead Train after me and the third driver was a passenger on her train who was suppose to relieve a later train. We departed from the Depot at about 03:15 – luckily there is no traffic on the roads this time of the morning so it was a relaxing drive. Bennie also brought a Maintainer along, who visually inspected the exterior of the trains at the station.
We arrived at the station a little under 40 minutes later and, after the security opened for us, we went downstairs to prepare our trains (to give you a comparison – it is just 18 minutes from Midrand to Park by train!).
Bronky and myself prepared our trains and, after inspecting the trains, the maintainer returned with Bennie to the Depot. Since I was suppose to be the Sweeper Train, I called Control to find out if I could quickly sweep to Sandton and return at normal speed to Park before the start of service at 05:30. They replied that they were still awaiting the return of the work permit (the type of work permit issued for the above mentioned situation must be surrendered physically) and that we may still have to start service as a shuttle train – I didn’t like the sound of that!
A few minutes before 05:00 my radio came alive and Control told me that the permit has been surrendered and to sweep to Sandton and then return normal speed to Park, I was also to check one of the Emergency Shaft Doors. They informed me that they implemented a speed restriction on the turnout.
After returning to Park, we thought that the day was going to be pleasant as everything was now back to ‘normal’ – so to speak. About 10 minutes before my departure time – and the start of service, the Passenger Information System started announcing that there were delays on the line. Initially, we thought that it was just playing from the previous day’s delay and called Control to inform them to avoid confusing the passengers. My heart sank as Control informed me that elsewhere on the General Commuter Line, there was no interlocking or detection on the signalling system and that trains were being authorized past signals!
I departed on time from Park and travelled as normal. Upon arrival at the next station, I noticed the signal was at danger for a very long time and called Control. They told me that they were going to give me a proceed aspect but that I was to stop at the signal protecting the turnout that was problematic the previous day.
Stopping short of the signal, I called Control again and they informed me that a Route Supervisor was on the way there to inspect and crank the turnout because they never had detection on the turnout – AGAIN.
After a while they informed me that they were going to give me a Proceed Aspect but that I will not be diverging but will be going straight, to Platform B. After stopping at Marlboro, I would be put back to the normal track. I travelled now at normal line speed until I was next to the Depot when I got an indication that the next signal would be at Danger – after calling Control, this turned out to be a train inserted in front of me.
Upon arrival at Midrand, the signal was at danger, but I knew it was the train ahead of me. Knowing that there were signal problems up ahead too, I didn’t bother to call Control again and we eventually were able to depart. Between Midrand and Centurion, the signal was – as expected – at Danger. I called Control to inform them that we were waiting in front of the signal and they said that they would get back to me. I informed the Conductor of the situation and asked her to make an announcement to the passengers. I also made an announcement a few minutes later.
Quite a while went by, because the train ahead of me was traveling at 30km/h (at the Golden Railway, when authorized past a signal, you are limited to traveling at 30km/h) and the distance between where we stopped and the next signal is quite far. Eventually, the radio burst into life – Control was calling to give me authorization.
This is where the story ties up to what I was saying earlier about how the system is growing and evolving. Due to a few previous incidents, Operations Management designed and issued Train Drivers with an ‘Authorization Booklet’. This booklet has various authority templates to be used in different situations that the Train Driver completes in conjunction with Control. Now you may say that, at your railway/railroad, you already have something like this in place. But due to the fact that the Golden Railway is a fairly new railway, some situations have never arisen until recently. That is when Management intervenes with their previous experience to design something to improve processes.
Still on the way to Pretoria, I had to be authorized past three signals – luckily, the penultimate signal towards the station was working. All together, I arrived at Pretoria two hours later than I should have. As you can imagine, the platform was packed! I scurried past all the angry and questioning faces of the passengers and into the Staff Waiting Room – which was full of Train Drivers and the Traffic Manager.
The Traffic Manager made contact with Control’s Manager and the two agreed that they would run a shuttle train between Pretoria and Hatfield (just to get some of the crowd moving), and all trains coming in like the one I brought in, would turn back and return to Park Station (this was because there were very few trains departing southbound).
Out of Pretoria I departed again – about 30 minutes later – as I volunteered to return to Park. The signal next to the penultimate signal to Pretoria – in other words for the southbound direction – was at Danger and the first that I would need to get authorization to pass. There would be two more signals to receive authority for. The signaling system was working again after the third signal, but remember that it’s still 30km/h through the section until the next signal.
After traveling at normal speed to Park again, Control decided that it was time to start withdrawing trains to the Depot again. As I got the other side, a driver that just started duty said I should take it back to the Depot so that he could stay on the line.
I returned to the Depot with the train – it also happened to be close to my signing off time, so the Route Supervisor said that I need not go out again.
After a very long day – it felt good to go home and have a nap! The next day everything was back to normal – just how we like it!
As a side note: I’ve noticed that all the Moveable Frogs have been sprayed with some or other pinkish spray which, I believe, indicates if there are any fractures in the rail.
I thought that I would define a few things mentioned in the article:
*Thermite Process: Thermite is a pyrotechnic composition of metal powder fuel and metal oxide. When ignited by heat, thermite undergoes an exothermic reduction-oxidation (redox) reaction. Most varieties are not explosive but can create brief bursts of high temperature in a small area. Its form of action is similar to that of other fuel-oxidizer mixtures, such as black powder.
The Thermite Process is very useful for the welding of broken metal parts. When Aluminum powder reacts with iron oxide or chromium oxide, a large amount of heat is released and about a temperature of 3500oC is attained which is enough to weld broken metallic parts
**Headway (From Railway Technical Webpages): This is the name given to the elapsed time between trains passing a fixed point in the same direction over the same track. It is usually expressed in minutes e.g. “trains were running at a 4-minute headway”. Another way of expressing it is as trains per hour (tph).
A well run railway will conduct research to determine how many fare paying customers are likely to show up at various times of the day and will operate their trains to suit. See Train Service Planning below. In many instances the patronage numbers will show that it is possible to run trains at even intervals or at a given “headway”. This may be at two hours for a long distance, main line route or two minutes for a metro.
Once established, the headway is used in calculating the number of trains required for a particular service, the train performance requirements and signalling requirements.
***Interlocking: In signalling, a system to prevent the setting up of conflicting routes. At first they were mechanical, then electro-mechanical. Now they are largely computerised using a two in three voting system or similar protocol.