Andrew Macfarlane comments:
We’ve been familiar with the concept of “Sunday engineering work” for many years. Sunday was and is the day chosen to do much essential engineering work on the railways because there is less freight traffic on a Sunday and traditionally fewer passengers use rail services.
However a phenomenon which crept in with rail privatisation was the replacement or partial replacement of the last train or the last two trains with buses. Under British Rail the last train was sacrosanct. Any overnight engineering work would only begin after the passage of the last train which would convey any late night passengers to their destinations. The problem appears to be that Railtrack (and now Network Rail) have too much power and they are able to dictate to the Train Operating Companies such as Northern when they can have “possessions” to work on the line.
Agreements have been drawn up which mean in practice that the last train in each direction on the Mid-Cheshire line is replaced by buses on four nights in a week every few weeks. Surely with improved technology overnight engineering work should be able to be completed quicker than in the past and we should not need longer possessions?
From a public service point of view the last train of the day is the last train which should not be being replaced by buses with much extended journey times and the danger of passengers being stranded for half the night if for any reason the bus does not call at the right place.
We need to get back to a mindset where the last train is once again sacrosanct and engineering work is done at times which do not interfere with the train service on an ongoing basis.