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Bonkers Blog September 2016

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12 September - Train troubles. Network Rail robs householders of their fences and doesn’t care

Apart from the usual complaints about buses and lifts at last week’s Crossrail Liaison Panel meeting and the more serious ones about unnecessary platform announcements and changed water courses, there was a new one concerning the increased noise level created by the North Kent line trains running on their new track east of Abbey Wood station.

The railway line from London Bridge towards Greenwich is the oldest in London. The first section from Spa Road, remnants of which can still be seen, to Deptford opened in 1836 and was later extended to Greenwich which was the terminus until 1878. There were fears that if it went further the vibration would disturb the Observatory and the Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital.

To avoid that the loop via Lewisham was opened which reached the Medway towns by 1849. Where it crossed the Thames marshes from Woolwich to Erith you can be sure that they did not use 30 foot piles and two feet of reinforced concrete as Network Rail has done for Crossrail. Much more likely is that they cut a trench into the peat and filled it with logs.

Over the years it would have compacted but fundamentally the line was built on a sponge which absorbed a lot of the vibration.

As anyone who has ridden a bike with soft tyres will know, softness takes much more of a toll on the leg muscles and similarly a car will use more fuel. It will be the same with a train. A track which has to be compressed by every passing train will add to the electricity bill. A steel wheel on a steel track was one of the things that made railways such an efficient form of transport, much better than the horses pulling carts along muddy tracks which they replaced.

CrossrailBut an incompressible track bed will not absorb the vibrations like compressed peat does.

Although I live some eighty feet from the realigned North Kent track and there is the house opposite in between there has been a noticeable increase in noise levels since Network Rail relaid the track a year ago.

With my windows closed I used to be unaware of passenger trains going by but that is no longer the case despite coincidentally replacing them with triple glazed units. The train wheels now make a whining noise as they go by. You can hear it from the new Platform 1 at Abbey Wood. Although trains can no longer be seen coming since the track realignment, the track advertises their imminent arrival by ‘singing’ in a way it never used to.

It’s the same at home. It’s not really bad eighty feet from the track with another house to shield me from the worst of it but it has become intolerable for those living on the other side of the road.

Since the new track went down I have seen glass ornaments sitting on a glass shelf take suicidal steps towards its edge. I don’t know exactly what causes it but it didn’t happen before Network Rail got to work.

TrainI think one reason for things being noisier than before is that where I can see the trains I can see their wheels too which I am pretty sure never used to be the case.

Since Photo 2 was taken in January this year the tree growth has masked the view and may have cut the noise levels too. Others have not been so lucky.

Many of the houses opposite were screened from the railway by a line of trees planted when their houses were built 30 years ago. All of them were protected by a six foot high wooden fence. The fence was put in when the noise nuisance from trains was far less, not just because of the soft track bed but because far fewer trains were scheduled then. Four trains an hour in each direction have become eight plus the corresponding increase in ‘Return to Depot’ workings and freight use.

Although neither trees nor fences belonged to Network Rail they removed them without consultation in October last year.

Why they did it is hard to say. The trees were conifers so did not create a Leaves On The Line problem and according to Network Rail the track at the eastern end of their works is in the same place as before.

Network Rail has claimed that the fence blew down in the autumn gales but they are mistaken. The fence was undeniably old and in need of replacement but for the most part it was still standing.

There is evidence that there is a big flaw in Network Rail’s protestations of innocence. There are photos of NR removing the trees taken on 25th October 2016 and they prove that the fence had already gone. Storm Barney didn’t arrive until 17th November.

The subject was raised at Bexley’s Transport Users’ Committee last January. A governor of Northwood Primary School which is the other side of the track from where the new complaints are coming from said that the increased train noise brings teaching to a halt. The Network Rail man at that meeting said there will be no acoustic screen to mitigate their undesirable impact on the environment.

Photos taken yesterday show that the most westerly facing fencing which bears the brunt of westerly (or easterly) gales is still standing 30 years after it was put up. Storm Barney toppled an adjacent tree but the fence survived, a house wall took most of the weight. The new photos also show an exact correlation between where fences are missing and where Network Rail took the trees down. Where there never were any trees, the fence still stands. Presumably Network Rail believes that is coincidence.

Network Rail has erected a chain link fence to keep trespassers from the railway but it does nothing to stop the noise. The Bostall and Church Manorway footbridges in Greenwich Borough are still not fully opened because of concerns over privacy. In Bexley no one appears to care that trains pass twenty feet from people’s windows and passengers can look straight in.

Greenwich Council has ensured that its residents are protected from the realigned North Kent line by an acoustic screen all the way from Abbey Wood to the Plumstead tunnel. In Bexley there is nothing even though, except for the three Greenwich houses close to the footbridges, none are anything like as close to the track shown below.

Photo taken while standing with back to the houses which used to be protected by a solid fence and mature trees.

Affected residents are to make a complaint to the Independent Crossrail Complaints Commissioner, Stephen Jolly. I am not significantly affected but I will be supporting it.


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