The Anonymous Widower

ORR’s Policy On Third Rail DC Electrification Systems

The title of this post is the same as that of a document I downloaded from this page on the Office of Rail and Road web site.

It is one of the most boring legal documents, that I have ever read and I have read a few in my time.

As I read it, effectively it says that new third-rail electrification is banned because of Health and Safety issues, which take precedence.

But only once in the document is new technology mentioned, that might make third-rail safer and that is a reference to the Docklands Light Railway, where the third rail is shielded.

I am an Electrical Engineer and I was designing safety systems for heavy industrial guillotines at fifteen as a vacation job in a non-ferrous metals factory.

One design of an ideal electric railway would have battery-electric trains, that were charged in stations by third-rail. The third-rail would only be energised, when a train was over the top and needed to be charged. In effect the train would act as an all-enclosing guard to the conductor rail.

Electrification Of The West Of England Main Line

The West of England Main Line runs between Basingstoke and Exeter via Salisbury. It is one of the longest, if not the longest main lines in England, that is not electrified.

It would probably need to be electrified with 750 VDC third-rail electrification, as that standard is used between London Waterloo and Basingstoke.

In Solving The Electrification Conundrum, I described a system being developed by Hitachi, that would use battery-electric trains that were charged by short sections of electrified line every fifty miles or so. For reasons of ease of installation and overall costs, these short sections of electrification could be third-rail, that was electrically dead unless a train was connected and needed charging. These electrified sections could also be in stations, where entry on to the railway is a bit more restricted.


The Office of Rail and Road needs to employ a few more engineers with good technical brains, rather than ultra-conservative risk-averse lawyers.

As a sad footnote, I live in East London, where trespassers are regularly electrocuted on the railway. But usually, it is when idiots are travelling on top of container trains  and inadvertently come into contact with the overhead electrification.

July 10, 2021 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , , , , ,


  1. […] Headbolt Lane and Kirkby stations are a couple of miles apart at most. So were Merseyrail hoping to extend the third-rail electrification to Headbolt Lane station, but the Office of Rail and Road has more or less said that no more third-rail electrification is allowed. See ORR’s Policy On Third Rail DC Electrification Systems. […]

    Pingback by Will Hitachi ABB Power Grids Technology Be Used At Headbolt Lane Station? « The Anonymous Widower | July 10, 2021 | Reply

  2. Idiots don’t have to come into contact with the overhead electrification to be electrocuted, National Rail safe working regs speak of a safe working distance of a minimum of 3 metres to avoid flashovers.

    Comment by fammorris | July 10, 2021 | Reply

    • I had a friend, whose brother got struck by lightning playing football!

      Comment by AnonW | July 10, 2021 | Reply

  3. The rail industry had an exemption against EAW but I believe Railtrack rolled over and agreed to comply with some of the safety clauses around isolations and securing them with earthing straps (which incidentally caused more harm in advertent live flashovers in part due to failure to comply with procedures – unintended outcome!). At the same time LU held the line but not sure how they got round that one in the end. Ultimately ORR are making the point that there is legislation that needs to be complied with but NR must currently be in receipt of an exemption certificate (reg 30 of the regulations) so be interesting to know what that confers. RSSB have also got a consultant onboard for a research project 21st Century DC electrification infill (T1214) which is addressing system safety risk. So my take is if this report is favourable it will give ORR the back up it needs to supportsome infill schemes like Uckfield.

    Personally, and im a life long DC man, it would be inappropriate now to install DC on WofE as plenty of dual voltage stock exists now and this also provides a heavy haul electric freight route for Southampton container traffic.

    Comment by Nicholas Lewis | July 10, 2021 | Reply

  4. Trespassers can even do themselves a mischief when the cabling is fibre optic: –

    He was trying to cut fibre optic signalling “cables”…

    Comment by R. Mark Clayton | July 11, 2021 | Reply

    • I did some work years ago, where I was analysing cable thefts for British Rail. One guy told me, it was common practice, when they swapped copper for fibre optic, that the criminals would cut it, in the vain hope, that BR would put back copper, so they could nick it.

      Comment by AnonW | July 11, 2021 | Reply

  5. The Health and Safety dislike of 3rd rail electrification is wildly skewed. If that really mattered then it would be withdrawn entirely. The 3rd rail system is in place so get on with its extension. If it was being introduced for the first time then the H & E argument would have some merit. Imagine if no roads were being added to the national network because the fatalities were unacceptable.
    You might like to consider whether the line west of Salisbury can really be called a main line such has been the singling and reduction of platform capacity over the years.

    Comment by Thomas Carr | July 12, 2021 | Reply

    • ORR don’t want to be scapegoated for anyone that brings a libel action against the industry when someone gets electrocuted so they run this position but concurrently continue to provide an exemption to EAW. NR has invested heavily into safer isolations on many routes now so they are making improvements in respect of staff safety along with system wide withdrawal of Red Zone Woking staff exposure is being reduced. The main risk remains trespass and outside of station areas lineside fences have been massively improved especially in problem areas further reducing the risk. It is of course perfectly feasible to have switchable sections in stations albeit it comes with added complexity to overall reliability of the network as well as the cost if ORR are determined to drive risk down towards zero.

      On the WofE line they will never consent to 3rd rail and 25kB will be far more cost effective over the single line sections anyhow along with most new trains readily adaptable to dual voltage if not already equipped.

      Comment by Nicholas Lewis | July 12, 2021 | Reply

      • I do think some of the same thinking is behind smart motorways.

        But then I know nothing about them, as I haven’t driven for twelve years.

        Comment by AnonW | July 12, 2021

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