Nuclear Train Not Fit For Tracks!

Braystones CrossingLandslip Near Sellafield

Residents of Braystones, near Sellafield, have for some years been trying to get some remedy for the awful state of the railway crossing and line, not all of them are anti nuclear but all are worried.

I can vouch for the Heath Robinson nature of the crossing at Braystones.

Last time I was there a chap shouted across to me to ring the telephone
and see if he could cross with his car as he was:
a. deaf
b. too slow to get back from the phone to the car in time to open the
gates and cross

No one, it seems in this age of nuclear cheerleading in the UK, is willing to take responsibility and do something about this dangerous situation.

Even if this track was the best maintained and safest rail track in the universe, the fact remains that there is no train track in the world fit for the purpose of transporting radioactive wastes when just three spent fuel coffins contain the radioactivity of the Hiroshima bomb.   Perhaps that is why there is such a lack of urgency on safety?

The following Article was sent to us and is reproduced in full, it is based on the letters sent by residents of Braystones to their MP and others who should be taking urgent action.


Nuclear trains have used the Cumbria coastal railway line for decades. One might expect that railway tracks and infra-structure used for such purposes would be amongst the best maintained in the country. Perhaps even more so, considering the £11⁄2 billion that is wasted each year at Sellafield and the many more billions that it is proposed by pro-nuclear lobbyists should be spent on nuclear development both at Sellafield and the adjacent Moorside site. Of course, further nuclear expansion around the country will require ever more long-distance transport of highly radioactive waste, but all of it will be delivered to Sellafield. Assuming current practise is maintained, then that will involve journeys to Carlisle then down the coast over the single-track section through Braystones. Other trains will use the southerly route, through Barrow-in-Furness. Sadly, according to Braystones residents, this line is not well maintained at all, and its structures, having been in situ for 160 years, may not be able to cope.

For almost six years now, they have been lobbying relevant bodies, from Network Rail to the Office of the Rail Regulator, to politicians and local and county councillors for improvements to the level crossing which serves the residents of the beach community. The crossing, which is manually self-operated, is the sole means for access to the beach bungalows, and is quite busy – especially during the spring and summer periods. Everyone from residents  on  the  school  run  to  builders’  supplies delivery vehicles to emergency vehicles has to use the system of telephoning the signal box at Sellafield to obtain permission to cross the line.

On a good day that is not too onerous. On many occasions, however, it can be very trying. When the signalman  is  busy  attending  to  “proper”  duties  or  absent  from  the  signal-box for some reason, it can take a long time to obtain a reply via the closed-circuit telephone system. Whilst the official timetable for trains does give cut-off times, at which point the crossing users have to use their own judgement as to the safety of crossing, there are occasional ad hoc train movements, and nuclear flask trains have been seen later than the official times. Long track maintenance trains have often progressed through the crossing – sometimes as late as 1 a.m. – by which time everyone has assumed that there will be no further trains.

The signalling system for the seven mile-long single-tracked section between Sellafield and St. Bees originated over 150 years ago.      The  basic  idea  is  that  a  “token”  is  issued by a signaller at one end of the single-track section. This licences the train driver to be in the section. On  the  driver’s  arrival  at  the   remote end of the section he hands the token to the second signaller and this becomes available for issue to a train heading in the opposite direction. No train should enter the section without being in possession of the token, ensuring only one train at a time occupies the line. Pedants will argue that things are more complex, but that is the basis of the system.

One of the weaknesses in the token system is that, once a train has left the issuing box, there is no further control or contact with the driver until his arrival at the remote box. In these days of mobile communications this system, therefore, is not the best available at a reasonable cost. The potential for corporate and personal culpability is illustrated in paper issued by the Office of the Rail Regulator, in their document #256823.03

Several incidents in recent years have illuminated the potential dangers vividly. One involved a dramatic re-enactment of The Railway Children (although fortunately spared the red drawers!) and the waving of articles of clothing by residents to stop a passenger train approaching a blockage on the line and danger

of falling into a collapsed embankment. The occasion was witnessed by an official from the ORR, but his memory failed him a few months later, when he could not recall what the train driver had told him about radio communications in the area. Three residents were able to recall it.

Even in Barrow-in-Furness, where one might expect things to be better maintained, there was a derailment at 5 m.p.h., because of poorly maintained track-work. Needless to say, the classic platitudes were issued: no-one was hurt; there was never any risk of radiation leaks, etc.

A passenger DMU en route to Sellafield was derailed just north of Braystones as a result of a landslip. A second unit sent from Sellafield to rescue passengers also became stuck when a further landslide occurred behind it.

The many landslides have pointed out the weakness of the embankments, whether from coastal erosion or water-logging. According to articles in railway journal, the angles at which embankments were originally cut do not provide the maximum stability and most need to be either redesigned or strengthened. The veracity of this can be seen from the fact that there have been at least three landslides sufficient to block the line in very recent times. Coupled with the exposed nature of the line and its susceptibility to storm damage by the tides, it may not seem a good idea to run nuclear trains along the line at speeds of up to 60 m.p.h. with a signalling system whose weaknesses are also well known.

In 1977, a train derailed after a bridge collapsed at Braystones, demolishing two of the beach bungalows, which, by pure good fortune, were unoccupied at the time. Residents are concerned about the condition of a bridge the other side of the station, where water pours through the block-work and a stream washes its foundations as the culvert through which it should flow has been damaged by winter storms. Several examinations, following complaints from residents, have resulted in no change.

Whether for the safety of people and vehicles crossing the line at Braystones or to protect the nuclear trains from accidents, it is way past time the entire system was brought up to date. Amazingly, a meeting with a Network Rail official revealed that there are 90 similar crossings in Cumbria. Fortunately, not all of them carry nuclear flask trains.

Articles in railway journals mention crossings which have automatic barriers automatically controlled by radar sensors built into the crossing furniture. Not only does the system scan the whole area for any changes, but it also relays the information to the signaller and/or train  driver.      Instead  of  such  a  “proper”   system, Network Rail seem to think that residents should be very grateful for their proposed system of a push-button-actuated barrier, which still depends on the Sellafield signaller being available to grant permission for its use. Hardly an improvement, in our opinion.

After dark there is no lighting on the crossing, which is poorly maintained and very uneven. Despite lighting of crossings being officially sanctioned in  these  circumstances,  beach  residents’  pleas  for  a  system   of automatic proximity-activated lighting have come to nought.

In days of yore, the railway companies could be forgiven for adhering to the old system. Considering what  a  nuclear  flask  train  accident’s  consequences  and  costs  would  be,  there is no excuse whatsoever. Whilst hoping that the premise is never tested in a court of law, we are convinced that culpability exists for all those officials, politicians, and councillors who have achieved so little over the years.

3 thoughts on “Nuclear Train Not Fit For Tracks!

  1. Pingback: Nuclear Train Not Fit For Tracks! | southwestagainstnuclear

  2. No wonder the government didn’t clean up Sellafield’s old fuel pools, etc, which was their excuse for passing it to the private sector, if they can’t even fix the train tracks! What are they doing with tax-money? It’s a wonder a major accident hasn’t happened yet. And, it would surely impact all of England, and maybe much of Europe, if there were a major accident with the nuclear waste. Some US states are beside themselves with worry about nuclear waste transport. So incredible it has to be read more than once!

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