Metrolink apologise again after more ice related delays

Peter Cushing, Metrolink Director at Transport for Greater Manchester, has had to apologise to passengers again after more delays caused by ice on the overhead wires. As reported on these pages at the weekend Metrolink now have a dedicated ice-breaker tram – 1021 – which has been fitted with a modified pantograph for this very purpose and other trams are also being used to try and keep the overhead clear of ice but unfortunately problems were still experienced early on Tuesday 19th November with the Oldham and Rochdale line particularly affected having to be suspended for 90 minutes during the morning rush hour.

Mr Cushing said: “TfGM and Metrolink operator, MRDL, have a clearly defined set of operational procedures which are implemented in the event of icy conditions being forecast in the areas served by Metrolink. This includes running ice breaker trams to keep the overhead power lines free from frost. Because of the threat of icy conditions a fleet of ice breaker trams were dispatched across the network last night and worked through the night until the resumption of normal services this morning. However ice did reform on certain part of the network and this did result in some delays to services and a suspension on the Oldham/Rochdale line. Technicians were dispatched immediately and the line was cleared as quickly as possible, but there were some knock on delays as a result. We apologise for this and we are taking steps to address this issue.”

Metrolink do seem aware that the ongoing issues with the icy conditions are not going down well with regular travellers on the network and are attempting to try and solve the worst of the problems. Mr Cushing concludes: “These were unusual circumstances and a number of other operators including rail service providers also experienced delays. We are trialling a new Teflon-based coating on the overhead lines this week which has the potential to reduce icing issues and if successful will be applied across the network. We are also speaking with the tram manufacturers to see if we can further improve their tolerances to voltage fluctuations in icy conditions.”

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18 Responses to Metrolink apologise again after more ice related delays

  1. tony stevenson says:

    I suggest a visit to Eastern Europe to see how they cope,I have been in Poland in the middle of winter and with much older trams and equipment they managed to keep a full public transport service in conditions far more extreme then we get here.Tony Stevenson

    • Freel07 says:

      I think you may have identified part of the problem with your comment. You say they coped using much older trams and equipment. That is one of the problems, modern trams with all their electronic equipment seem to be very sensitive to the fluctuations in voltage caused by the continuous make/break contact experienced at the pantograph to wire contact. Even main line trains have been known to shut down when faced with the continuous arcing, as the onboard monitoring system designed to protect track circuits from false clearance sees the electrical noise as a threat. The older trams don’t have all this equipment and just keep ploughing on regardless. Even so technology must exist to overcome the problem as Bob Hall has indicated.

  2. Freel07 says:

    Bob Hall commented as follows after the last serious disruption duue to icing on the wires.

    Bob Hall says:
    Thursday 7 November 2013 at 22:40
    In those parts of he world where damp, sub-zero temperatures are commonplace the OHLE does not ice up. A controlled “short circuit” passes sufficient current along an unused line to warm the wires sufficiently to prevent icing. It is not rocket science, just the application of long established practice. Unfortunately, British operators are still engrossed in the brainstorming necessary to invent the wheel, which sooner or later they will conclude must be circular.

    I would be genuinely interested to hear of a system that uses this method. The problem today seems to have developed when trams were running to a normal service frequency rather than overnight when the system was shutdown. What Metrolink term ice breakers had been operated overnight and the first hour or so of service ran reasonably until the temperature dropped.I am sure there must be ways of overcoming this nightmare.

    • Ken Walker says:

      Somebody on the TfGM twitter feed today did suggest that Metrolink make PA announcements asking smokers on platforms to wave their cigarette lighters in the air! I don’t know what effect it would have on ice forming between stops though!

  3. Phill says:

    Peter went on to say “There’s no truth in the rumour it was sabotage by Daleks, in revenge for the Dr Who movie I did in the 60’s. We settled that score years ago. In fact, I’m having Davros over for dinner on boxing day”

  4. Mike Norris says:

    to Phil,
    Could your Doctor Who mates evaporise or transport, Cushing, Metrolink & MRDL to planet Galafrey and do us all a huge favour ?

  5. Mike Norris says:

    Forgot to say
    we could ditch the M5000’s and
    return the T68’s that do not suffer the icing problems

  6. David Butterworth says:

    In my opinion, when there is frost forecast it is vital to concentrate the ice clearing duties on the Oldham-Rochdale line since the lowest temperatures occur on this section owing to the height above sea level. Oldham and Shaw are 600 feet above S.L. The line from Manchester (East Didsbury) to Hollinwood station is a mere 100 -350 feet above sea level. The gradient rapidly increases thereafter, (obvious, I know, but still worth pointing out).

    Also the line is very exposed to climatic extremes, being situated at the foot of the Pennines.

    In addition we may have five or six inches of snow with deep drifts in Oldham and outlying districts, but there may be hardly any snow at all in Manchester and its more southerly outposts. I have noted this on several occasions over the years.

  7. Ken Walker says:

    According to today’s Manchester Evening News, in addition to the ‘unusual circumstances’ Peter Cushing is also blaming the problems on Rochdale’s altitude! According to Wikipedia Rochdale is a whole 150 feet above sea level. Even Oldham is only 700 feet above sea level.
    He also concedes problems with the software on the M5000s, and says that Metrolink are working with Bombardier to find a way ‘to trick the software into thinking there’s no ice’. Perhaps they could trick it into thinking that Oldham and Rochdale are at sea level as well!

  8. Mike Norris says:

    Peter Cushing was live on BBC North West Tonight,
    He is Arrogant beyond belief. He said the past delays only occur at peak time, the trams run OK at all other times !!
    He needs to get a life , get a handle on his job and/or GET OUT !
    One woman interviewed said the departure board at Oldham continued to show next tram in 10 minutes, even though it was half an hour before one arrived, then guess what, yes, it went out of service.
    At least now both the BBC and the Manchester Evening News are now on the Metrolink case, they report that Cushing has said its Rochdale’s fault, being
    higher up than sea level, Really ?

  9. NotchArrestor273 says:

    Perhaps TfGM in concert with Network Rail could arrange for some of the eddy current that is possibly responsible for the issues with Cornbrook point failures to be routed to the Metrolink OHLE for the purposes of wire warming.
    As it stands we have a tramway & trams that are not fit for purpose and a TfGM management team that is also not fit for purpose.
    The temperatures have barely fallen below 0 degC and we haven’t had any snow yet so stand by for some astonishing excuses when the going actually does get a bit tougher.
    You have to ask yourself…. once it’s finished would you risk a tram to the airport, what a way to blow your holiday, stranded on a failed tram in Wythenshawe!

  10. Alan Kirkman says:

    We had exactly the same sort of problems back in 1996/7 with the then new 323 trains on the cross city line in Birmingham. The difficulty was not the ice it was the spiky current flows resulting from the arcing etc. so the onboard computers interpretted that as a dangerous condition and shut down and dropped the pantograph. Eventually the problem was isolated to two locations where extra wet air was hitting the cold wire, one was by a set of cooling vents by the Austin Factory at Longbridge and the other was the cooling tower plume from Rugely power station blowing across north of Shenstone. A very torrid time resulted until a lot of work including one vehicle going to the Climatic Test Centre in Vienna enabled the computers to be reprogrammed to cope and understand. Since when there has been no recurrence and the knowledge is, I understand, used to proof all new Electric trains. In view of the problem striking M5000s I suspect something very similar.

  11. Jamie Guest says:

    Much the same happenned with the class 357 Electrostars that work the London Tilbury and Southend line. As far as I know they did a very similar fix which i think involved,’dumbing down’ the electronics so thet were less sensitive. That expertise is all in the UK at Bombardier in Derby so perhaps they will fix the problem soon.


  12. Frank Gradwell says:

    Isn’t there a fleet of recently redundant high capacity tramcars with a high seating ratio lying around in various locations after leaving their long time home depot? They could be drafted in to show these addicts to new – shiny – crap – standee when it arrives – can’t cope with English weather rubbish what a real tramway did fairly reliably for seventy five years ago, and wouldn’t they look fun wending their way around Manchester.

    What Cushy salary is is this horror story of a Director of Lack of Transport on? Time for him to earn it, or get the next tram out of town – if we can wait that long!

  13. John says:

    I see the serial whingers are out again. A Tramway encounters problems and delays occur. Get over it. I recently went to London by car and it took me 8 hours (twice the normal time) but I’m not on the internet whinging about it or baying for the blood of the Highways Dept. Sh*t happens. Let them find a solution and implement it. Harsh comments NotchArrester – if you can do better, why don’t you have their jobs???? Britain is 30 years behind the rest of the world in transport technology so we have to learn from new and reinvent the wheel every time. Its frustrating but its fact!

  14. Gareth Prior says:

    I think we have now done this subject to death and unless anyone has anything new to add we can call it a day. Yes it is incredibly frustrating for passengers over the delays especially when they seem never ending but Metrolink is not the first transport system to have delays and sure won’t be the last so we have to leave the bosses to try and sort it out. It possibly won’t be overnight but I am sure in a few years time we all be looking back to these delays wondering what all the fuss was about!

  15. Frank Gradwell says:

    I’m sorry but it is just that sort of complacent “leave it to those who know best” outlook that has got us into this self repeating cycle of poor design, poor procurement, poor project management and therefore poor end product.

    Leaving it to these people ends up with, as we have now seen, year after year of poor performance being explained away by PR people, instead of being designed out.

    Any business, and any public transport system lives in a competitive environment and if they give away any advantage they ever had by failing to provide public satisfaction then they will, in the end not be accepted as the medium of choice.

    It is reported that since the Oldham line Metrolink conversion opened, Mills Hill is now oversubscribed as those living in Chadderton, Royton etc abandon the slow standee tram system for the faster heavy rail option – if not their car.

    Tramways are not entitled to their clientele – they must deserve it by their level of service, and that they are simply not providing, a mere twenty one years since trams returned to Manchester.

    TFGM and their owning local authorites must face up to the facts and improve their operation, not their PR.

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