Network Rail protects vital freight route in North West England

Ribblehead viaduct with Network Rail route proving train and snowplough crossing Feb 11 2021 - Credit Tom Beresford

The Settle and Carlisle Line, which carries heavy freight traffic and relieves the busy West Coast Main Line, has been strengthened by extensive ground works near its northern end in Cumbria. The line, which was threatened with closure in the 1980s, is now integral to bulk freight operations and supports aggregates and infrastructure works, among other flows.

Drone footage of the line has been released which shows protection from landslips to secure future journeys for freight and passengers. The line is also an iconic rail journey and attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists annually.

Risk of landslides

The principle works undertaken involved significant underpinning and re-profiling of a cutting, at a site prone to storm damage. Network Rail has invested 1.3 million pounds (1.5 million euros) as part of the Great North Rail Project to secure the cutting.

The extensive works at the village of Cumwhinton near Carlisle (Network Rail)

Storms earlier this year led to trees coming down at the site – at the village of Cumwhinton near Carlisle.
Engineers soon spotted the cause was moving earth which also risked falling onto the railway. Urgent work soon got underway to secure the land, with stretches of sloped lineside re-profiled with new stone to make it more stable and less steep.

Freight traffic should be encouraged

More than 10,000m³ of earth was moved during the protection project and 7,000m³ of new stone was laid.
Drainage was also improved so tracks do not become flooded during extremely wet weather. “Our investment to shore up the cutting in Cumwhinton means the line can continue to provide a reliable route for freight”, said Olivia Boland, Network Rail scheme project manager. “The work took place between April and September with no delays to train services.”

The Settle Carlisle Line is vital to Network Rail operations. An infrastructure train approaching Appleby station. Image courtesy of Carsten S. Lundsten – FoSCL.

A joint study undertaken jointly by the independent Settle Carlisle Line Association, passenger train operator Northern, and the infrastructure agency Network Rail, concluded that freight traffic should be encouraged on the line. “The line is still an important route for through traffic”, says the report. “Aggregate traffic is expected to see growth in future years. In addition to this, and engineering trains forming a vital link between Network Rail’s distribution centres using the line on a regular basis. The line is gauge sensitive for the intermodal traffic which limits the scope. The arrival of HS2 and train service patterns may increase the number of trains using the line, could play a pivotal role in through traffic.”

Network Rail has invested heavily in the line – including recent works to secure the iconic Ribblehead Viaduct, the vast structure that was cited as a reason for closure proposals in the 1980s. The heritage aspects of the line are championed by the active organisation, the Friends of the Settle Carlisle Line.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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