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The “third-rail” electrified network has suffered disruption during the last three winters because of the formation of ice on electrical conductor rails. As a result, during 2010 Network Rail installed experimental heating elements at selected sites to keep the conductor rail free of ice when such conditions arise.
It is understood that very good test results were achieved during the severe weather in December 2010, and Network Rail is now proposing to install the system at an additional 160 sites.
I have discussed this potential solution with senior representatives of Network Rail and the Office of Rail Regulation, and will continue to monitor the progress of this and other actions to improve rail service resilience in the future.
The Quarmby review of the resilience of England's transport systems in winter recommended that conversion of the top contact/third rail system to a less vulnerable method of traction current supply should be considered and evaluated.
The Secretary of State asked the rail industry to formulate proposals in response to the recommendations in the report, including third-rail alternatives, to help the rail system to improve its resilience in winter weather.
In addition the Rail Safety and Standards Board has initiated a research study into the economics of converting to alternatives to the third rail DC system. The outputs of this research work will help inform future investment decisions in relation to the electrified rail network.