Metro system has ‘design fault’, says boss of rail network

Bus replacement service at Brockley Whins Metro Station
Bus replacement service at Brockley Whins Metro Station

A rail boss says that a power fault which caused chaos to thousands of Metro passengers happened because the system has a design fault which means it does not meet the network’s standards.

Network Rail is responsible for the power line which failed and closed the Metro system between Pelaw and Brockley Whins for three days earlier this month .

Coun Gladys Hobson.

Coun Gladys Hobson.

Yesterday, the firm’s area director, Mark Tarry, faced a grilling by the North East Combined Authority (NECA) transport committee at a meeting at Sunderland Civic Centre.

In the face of questions from councillors from South Tyneside, Sunderland, Gateshead, Newcastle and North Tyneside, he admitted that, although improvements can be made, the system will never be as reliable as other networks.

A waterlogged underground cable caused the system failure and was eventually replaced. Earlier high winds had hit the overhead lines.

He said: “The overhead line system that I operate and provide in this part of the world works very differently to that on the East Coast Main Line and the West Coast Main Line.

The system will never, ever be as reliable as conventional system. It’s not been designed to be reliable

Mark Tarry, area director, Network Rail

“What happened two weeks ago with the power cable, had it happened on the East Coast Main Line, would not have stopped the trains because the system is set up differently.

“There is a bypass system where you essentially flick a switch and you split the load between substations either side of the affected area.

“We can’t do that here. That is the flaw of the system.”

Mr Tarry said that Network Rail took over the line in 2001 and it had not been designed to its specifications.

He said that was “probably because of cost saving at the time”.

He added: “The system was passed to Network Rail to operate. We didn’t design it, that’s why it doesn’t meet with the standards of the rest of the network.

“We have to redesign a protection system in order to overcome the issue that we saw two weeks ago.”

He said feasibility and design work has now been commissioned for the redesign but was unable to give any timescales for any work.

Committee member for South Tyneside, Councillor Gladys Hobson, said: “It appears from what we hear and what we read, that South Tyneside and Sunderland ended up with a worse service compared with other parts of the network.

“It appears we have more problems this side of the river.”

Mr Tarry also told the committee that he wanted to “unreservedly apologise” for both incidents.

“Me and my team are fully aware of all the pain they caused to customers and the damage in reputation,” he added.

“People remember the bad experiences and not the good ones. We know that it’s not good enough.”