The Anonymous Widower

Would Southeastern’s Proposed Battery-Electric Trains Be More Reliable In The Snow?

This article on CityMonitor, which is entitled No Trains South Of London During Cold Weather? Blame A Pair of Herberts For Choosing The Wrong Electrical System, explains it all.

The article was written in 2018 and these are the first two paragraphs.

As is often the case when the weather is below freezing, commuters around London are having a terrible time this week. The blizzard has hit services on all lines around the capital. Trains running towards the south and southeast have had the worst of it, with services cancelled on Monday before the full impact of the storm really hit.

It’s frustrating to compare the UK’s lack of readiness when extreme weather hits with services in Switzerland or Sweden, which cheerfully run in heavy snow conditions.

The article blames the poor performance on South London’s third rail electrification, which as the title suggests was chosen by a couple of Herberts.

Does anybody know of a child in the last fifty years, who has been called Herbert?

I shouldn’t be too hard on Herberts, as my paternal grandfather was a Herbert. But he was an alcoholic and died before he was forty.



December 14, 2022 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , ,


  1. Cannot think of any modern Herberts however there was Sir Herbert Walker firstly General Manager of the London and South Western Railway then from 1923 of the Southern Railway under whom the third rail system was adopted.Not a right Herbert-far from it as he was one of the great railway managers of his time.

    Comment by Hugh Steavenson | December 14, 2022 | Reply

  2. The other Herbert was Herbert William Jones who was electrical engineer for the Waterloo & City having previously been involved with the original tube line South London railway. He became electrical engineer with LSWR but the real driver of third rail top contact system was Alfred Raworth who father and been a key figure in Brush amongst many other electrical entities from the foundation of commercial electrical engineering.
    Of course part of the reason SR went down the top contact route was because LSWRs Walker became GM of the new SR and it became preferential. However, third rail was a more cost effective system and simpler to install and the then private owned railways had to worry about the bottom line. The reality is top contact conductor rail, ignoring its safety issues, has proven to be far more rugged than OLE but ice is its Achilles Heel. Its otehr problem is modern EMUs with clever 3 phase drives have the potential to put out return currents that can cause wrong side failure of track circuits so they have very sensitive monitoring equipment. However, when con rail is icy you get a lot of arcing and the monitoring equipment sees that as dodgy current and shuts teh train down. Driver has to reboot only for the same thing to happen however old slam door trains would just be driven with arcing and could keep moving. Generally if you can keep traffic moving combined with deicers actually ice inhibitors you would have kept lines open in the modest amount of snow on Sunday evening but things soon fell apart on SE side. Then with todays railway of throwing caution to the wind it rapidly fell to pieces.

    Still say in the round con rail beats OLE for overall reliability but with todays train power demands its no longer suitable from that point of view but it aint going away and the two Herberts bequeathed a system that has delivered billions of journeys over its 1oo odd years of service.

    Comment by Nicholas Lewis | December 14, 2022 | Reply

  3. Two Herberts were responsible for putting together 1990s pop group the Spice Girls. Unfortunately for the purposes of this anecdote it’s their surname (a father and son team).

    Comment by Neil | December 16, 2022 | Reply

  4. Correct me if I am wrong but after third rail electrification from Southampton and Eastleigh towards Portsmouth and also to East Grinstead,then Tonbridge to Edenbridge was completed the plan was to electrify the remaining diesel bits of the network from Wokingham to Reigate via Guildford then Hurst Green to Uckfield and Ore to Ashford thus eliminating the need for any diesel trains on the old Southern Region?

    Comment by Hugh Steavenson | December 20, 2022 | Reply

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