NETWORK RAIL has introduced a new method of temporary block working which will allow trains to begin moving again more quickly following interruptions caused by major power or signalling failures. Emergency Special Working (ESW) provides new rules while maintaining the same operational principles as the current temporary block working (TBW).

Until now, TBW has been the basic method of degraded working when trains need to be authorised to pass (often) several consecutive signals at danger. Under TBW rules, hand signallers are required at the signals at both the entrance and exit of the affected section, and all points within that section must be secured on the ground with clips, chocks or padlocks, irrespective of whether they remain correctly detected, before trains can resume running. Inevitably, this takes time, not least in first identifying competent hand signallers and permanent way staff, and then getting them to the site, during which time stranded trains can become uncomfortable, passengers become distressed and there is a risk that they may begin to detrain onto the track, requiring further extensive closures and creating more delay.

ESW takes advantage of the railway GSM-R network to provide direct communication between drivers and signallers, so does not require the use of hand signallers. And if points are locked and detected by the signalling system, ESW does not require these to be secured on the ground. One proviso is that the exit signal from the affected section must be at an agreed location easily identifiable by drivers, such as at a junction or platform end.

The need for such an improved method of working was first identified by Stewart Palmer during his time as Managing Director of South West Trains following several major delays caused by passengers detraining in the aftermath of signal failures. Following research, risk assessment and involvement of train operating companies and trade unions, ESW was tested operationally, confirming both the safety aspects and that in some circumstances introduction could be achieved in less than 20 minutes – compared to perhaps several hours with conventional temporary block working. Alan Williams