Mind The Crap: The Continuing Problem Of Poo On The Tracks

Picture courtesy of @bbctomedwards

Picture courtesy of @bbctomedwards

We’ve all experienced that noisome, bitter stench while waiting on a mainline train station. After moving away from the chain coffee stall, it tends to go away. But then there’s that other source of unwanted emanations: wee and poo dumped on the train track.

The problem is old trains. Since 1996, all new rolling stock has been fitted with tanks to contain passengers’ slops. But older cars still dump their loads directly onto the tracks, and often they do it in stations. According to the BBC, tracks at King’s Cross, Liverpool Street and Paddington all experience the charms of raw sewage, debouched from outdated trains. The BBC’s Tom Edwards, who’s keeping a close eye on the story, reckons the problem is particularly acute at London’s most-recently upgraded station:

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East Coast denies that its cleaning staff are flushing toilets at King’s Cross and says that passengers are urged not to do so either. Yet the problem persists.

It’s not just a nose-pincher for those waiting on platforms. The RMT union is now agitating about the problem, describing the effluent as a health risk for its track workers. Union leader Bob Crow told the BBC: ”I think it’s absolutely scandalous. No other part of society would allow for raw sewage to be thrown over the track where our members have to work”.

The union is calling on train companies to invest in containment systems, while both the government and the Rail Delivery Group reassure us that they are investing in new rolling stock. Complete fleet replacement will take years, however. Until then, please mind the crap, and don’t flush in stations.

What’s the scale of this problem? Have you encountered the telltale whiff of raw effluent on one of London’s mainline stations? Dish the dirt (not literally) below.

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  • BethPH

    I’ve seen (and smelt) it at Liverpool Street too. Utterly gross.

  • kjmci

    I’ve experienced it changing at Slough.

    i just assumed that was what Slough normally smelt like.

    • MattFromLondonist

      The two explanations are not mutually exclusive.

  • filboid_studge

    I saw some huge turds on the line at Didcot on Christmas Eve.

    • MattFromLondonist

      The punchline writes itself.

  • Stuart Dean

    Bob Crow doesn’t mind crapping all over us Londoners though, does he, eh?
    Eh, eh??

    • Stella

      i think you’re getting him mixed up with Boris Johnson. Bob Crowe regularly sticks up for us Londoners, and represents many of us too!!

    • Stella

      i bet you feel like crap now….. Bob Crow RIP

  • anonymous

    London Waterloo station used to have a fine crop of tomato plants in the ‘four-foot’.

  • Dave K

    In the past there used to be ‘Do not flush whilst train standing in station’ signs – do they still have them? If not, then perhaps a new batch of signs and a small poster campaign to remind people might help.
    TBH it’s been happening for years and it’s not going to stop until we have new stock or everyone suddenly become enlightened and conscious of the consequence of their actions! Pfft.

  • Alan_Peery

    The train companies also need to make sure that the septic waste tanks are large enough. I’ve been on SouthWest Trains trains where the toilets were closed “for repairs”, when they were really closed as the tanks were full. There also needs to be some extra capacity for times when the trains are stuck on the line for hours — whatever the cause.

    Why did it take until 1996 to ban new trains with drop toilets?

  • Stella

    The only place I ever saw crap being dropped onto a track from a train was in Rome station.. The underside of the trains were clearly visible and I saw a little flap drop at the end of a pipe and a turd, and some water spewed out :-)

  • Dave H

    Collecting it in tanks is so crude with penalties of weight, and extra mileage to take trains to even less pleasant ‘dump sidings’ where the stuff is sucked out.

    Fact is that old trains could be converted using equipment which has been proven in battlefield conditions and widely on private boats, which on most UK waterways are no longer allowed to ‘set the brown admiral’ adrift. Basically the stiff that goes down the pan is almost entirely compounds of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen. Stick it through a liquidiser and fire it up at 850 degrees Celsius, and it vaporises. The gases produced are all naturally occurring in the atmosphere, and the heat can be used for the water to wash your hands afterwards.

    Alternatively compress the solids as if they were curds and whey, creating a solid pellet or substantially reduced volume and recycling the water through an osmotic filter.

    Dump sidings are expensive and a bad piece of project scheduling saw trains on one route being parked overnight with full tanks and thus no toilets the next day, because the emptying facilities were not in place when the trains entered service.

    Diesel trains can directly install this system, as they have a supply of fuel and electricity to run the current equipment. Electric trains, would either require a fuel source (diesel or propane gas), or an electric furnace – but such things do exist.

    Retro-fitting a tank on to older trains is also a challenge, both for the space, and the added weight. The units have been suggested to train operators but the ultra conservative railway has to square the idea of a high temperature furnace on board the train, when the EU regulations, designed to deal with the very serious issues of train fires in long Alpine tunnels, place serious constraints on allowing a fire to burn on a railway vehicle for more than 20 minutes (this of course has the operators of steam engines pulling a puzzled face, before collapsing on the floor in hysterical laughter).

    Fortunately in the UK the certification of rail vehicles is now handled by the train owners and operators (ROGS) and it may be that we will see a combustion toilet coming to a train near you soon.