Fault-detecting Flying Banana train caused delays

Network Rail's new measurement train flies across Scotland's tracks at speeds of up to 125mph, taking hundreds of thousands of pictures highlighting potential problems. Picture: Neil Hanna

Network Rail's new measurement train flies across Scotland's tracks at speeds of up to 125mph, taking hundreds of thousands of pictures highlighting potential problems. Picture: Neil Hanna

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IT IS affectionately known as the “Flying Banana”, a special train packed with hi-tech equipment which tours the network checking for track faults.

However, the yellow carriages and their black-nosed locomotive have themselves slipped up, causing hours of delays to passengers in Scotland.

Figures provided to The Scotsman under freedom of information laws show that Network Rail’s “new measurement train” – the railway equivalent of an MRI scanner – has caused disruption at least 23 times in the last three years north of the Border. The train is designed to spot faults so they can be fixed before they get worse and disrupt services – and travels at high speed to avoid slowing other trains.

But the figures revealed the Flying Banana has suffered a series breakdowns and other problems, such as crew turning up late, holding up travellers.

In the latest incident, 12 ScotRail services had to be cancelled and others were delayed after the train detected a fault then spilled fuel in March.

The incident was not included in the figures because the delays caused are still being calculated.The leak happened on one of the busiest sections of the Scottish network – the steep tunnel down into Queen Street Station in Glasgow. This caused “poor railhead conditions”, making it difficult for other trains trying to go up the slope.

The train’s sophisticated cameras and thermal equipment enable it to record images of track a fraction of a millimetre long while travelling at up to 125mph, at the rate of 70,000 pictures a second. Details of faults are sent to engineers to check and fix.

The biggest single incident caused more than three-and-a-half hours of delays near the Craigentinny maintenance depot, on the east coast main line in Edinburgh last May.

However, rail development campaigners Railfuture said the train had a good record overall.

Spokesman Bruce Williamson said: “This train does great work in monitoring the condition of the track and helping to keep the network running smoothly.

“It’s inevitable that occasionally, as with any other train, things go wrong and it causes some sort of problem. In the real world, we shouldn’t be surprised if the Flying Banana occasionally drops a bit of a banana skin itself.”

David Sidebottom, passenger director of watchdog Transport Focus, said: “The measurement train assists in providing reliable infrastructure to support a punctual and reliable railway, but it is regrettable that from time to time it causes delay.”

A Network Rail spokesman said: “Our fleet of measurement trains perform a vital role in keeping the railway moving and in driving up performance by quickly identifying faults. They can inspect huge areas of track quickly and, thanks to the range of equipment on board, in more detail than we would otherwise be able to accomplish.”

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