28/5/2019 All Services to/from Heuston suspended
Major CTC signalling fault at approx. 0530 this morning has shutdown all rail services to/from Heuston. It wasn't until 0609 that Irish Rail communicated this.
This impacts all services on 'mainline' CTC which covers
Heuston - Limerick Junc - Limerick
Heuston - Cabra (Phoenix Park tunnel route)
Portarlington - Athlone (including beyond Athlone station)
Kildare - Athy
This is not a signal fault, its a control fault
There are back up control rooms (Heuston P10, Athlone, Thurles, Limerick Junc, Limerick) but as always with Irish Rail contingencies are not planned for. We do know the 0520 Athlone Heuston is stranded outside Clara for 90 minutes
Pursuant to EC1371 art 16, passengers impacted this morning are entitled to one of the following at no cost
1. Full refund
2. Rerouting, i.e. ticket limited to a specific train can now be used on any train
3. You are entitled to make the journey on a different date
Needless to say staff on the ground have no clue about these rights
Manual signalling in operation now.
What do we have is the following
0540 Portlaoise Heuston
0550 0615 Cork Heuston
0615 Limerick Heuston
Are moving under manual signaling. The track is locked to allow this, Galway and Waterford services remain suspended at Athlone and Athy
Services resuming, however it is intercity only, commuter services remain suspended between Portlaoise/Hazelhatch and Heuston/Phoenix Park
It appears we have gone to manual control with the local signaling panels, full normal signaling is in force.
Under local control capacity is restricted and there is no train describer so its tricky to know which train is which so routing trains in the 4 track section and into/from the Park Tunnel is challenging
Full service has resumed but its going to be a day of delays while things sort out
Real time information is likely to be completely wrong for some time until the control centre in Connolly is back working
So 10 hours on the system is still not fixed, while Irish Rail says it is using 'manual signaling' it really means without the computer, we are not talking about flags and lamps. It is perfectly safe (in fact there is no difference vs normal)
The main signaling console which controls Dublin Heuston to Athy/Athlone/Limerick/Cork failed at 0530 this morning and reversion to some form of backup took about 2 and a half hours, even longer in the case of Athlone.
The system is mostly automated and a computer reads the timetable and tells the signaling system how to route the trains, this is called auto route setting, ARS is the industry. Signaling staff mostly supervise and intervene for delays or other disruptions.
If this fails the signaling staff perform everything through a computer terminal relying on the train describer to know which train is which, each train has an id number which is shown in the internal timetable and the number alone is normally enough to know the trains type and destination. It is possible to maintain a full service here with some care.
If the train describer fails then things become challenging and itís back to pen and paper, easy on a single tracks route, very challenging at a major terminus or junction. Some routes operate in this manner permanently.
If the computer goes down, and bearing in mind the computer has no safety function at all there are emergency control points around the network usually in a container or block house.
Inside there is an old style mimic panel (pre 1995) or a computer terminal. The signalman turns a switch in the room to local which means the computer cannot control anymore but can see what is going on. the signal person controls locally relying on old style bell communication to the adjacent signal box. In this case while possible to maintain full service it is extremely challenging and it assumes Irish Rail has sufficient staff trained.
In all cases itís just a different way to tell the signaling system how to route a train, the signaling system itself provides the safety critical protections not the control centre computer
All of this relies on adequate trained and experienced staff. Fully manual control from the emergency control point is very rarely used. This is the problem lack of experience.
To-day's Irish Times has a report which highlights the truly awful lack of communication from Irish rail yesterday.
As of now (1230pm Wednesday 29th) the Irish Rail website has no updates since yesterday. It isn't clear from the information they provide whether the system is still in manual (ECP) mode or whether the problem has been definitively solved.
The failure to provide timely information is a serious and chronic one, and one wonders what we have an NTA or a Minister for Transport for, if not to seriously take Irish Rail management to task
I believe we are back in 'normal' operation.
These things only tend to go wrong if a change is made, but given the condition of the CTC mainline room in Connolly it wouldn't surprise me if it was equipment failure due to age. The system has been hacked around and added to since 1976. The current computer system dates from 2004.
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