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

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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.

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 Sunderland,South Tyneside, 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.

“What happened two weeks ago, 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.”

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

Committee member and Sunderland City Councillor Michael Mordey said he had met with Mr Tarry earlier yesterday.

“As members it’s not up to us to wait to committee to hold operators to account,” Coun Mordey said. “Mark and I discussed the incident that caused that three-day disruption.

“We look forward to lessons being learned. It was a significant hindrance to the people of Sunderland and the people of Tyne and Wear to put up with that delay.”

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.”