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Wrong grease on the rails caused commuter misery; Train wheels worn out.

Byline: BY BEN SCHOFIELD

TRACK operator Network Rail (NR) caused huge disruption to the Merseyrail network by using the wrong grease.

A confidential report seen by the Daily Post says the lubricant used by NR on the tracks was not water-resistant, meaning train wheels were grinding unprotected against the tracks.

At its worst so many trains were waiting to be repaired that services were slashedfrom four an hour to two an hour, causing misery for commuters.

The report says in August, 2007, NR headquarters ordered a change in the grease because there was a problem with oil/water separation that meant the lubricant was being washed off the rails. The nozzles of trackside dispensers were also getting blocked by the residual mineral content of the grease.

That decision came after Merseyrail had observed a "20 to 30 fold increase" in the rate of wheel flange wear.

The increase, the report continues, affected the entire fleet and wore wheels down to their minimum flange level.

That caused trains to be taken out of service so their wheels could be re-faced on a lathe. So many trains needed work that a backlog developed at the Kirkdale workshop.

Merseyrail, which manages the trains, and NR, which has the monopoly for looking after tracks, appointed industry analysts Deltarail to investigate.

Deltarail's interim report was discussed at a private meeting of Merseytravel's rail committee yesterday.

It says the most likely cause of the problem was faulty lubrication.

Merseytravel chairman Cllr Mark Dowd said after the meeting: "It's the third time this has happened in 21 years and the other two times it was down to lubricant. It won't happen in the future but it shouldn't happen in the first place. It's incompetence at it's greatest."

The committee voted to implement the report's recommendation to draw up three-monthly reports into the lubrication regime on the lines.

A NR spokesperson said: "Network Rail has worked closely with Merseyrail throughout the investigation into the problems caused on the network and both parties accept the findings of the report and allocation of fault on both sides.

"Many of the report's recommendations have already been implemented and a joint Network Rail and Merseyrail working group has been established to monitor the situation."

The report also recommended a train-mounted system to grease track not reached by current methods.

Wore wheels down to minimum level
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jun 5, 2008
Words:393
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