Scotland: safety message clear as Leven work ramps up

Level track road truck (NR)

Reopening closed railway lines is not always a straight-forward matter. The engineers in Scotland are finding out that fact with the Levenmouth project in Fife. Modern engineering standards do not always lend themselves to the tolerances allowed fifty years ago, one hundred years ago, and sometimes even further back in time.

The project to reopen the moribund branch line, serving the communities around the River Leven in Fife, is providing a case study in adapting old railway formations to modern safety standards. While many of the structures on the historic railway network are more than adequate, remodelling and reinforcement to modern standards, within the confines of the original railway footprint calls for a high degree of ingenuity.

Significant strengthening

Engineers rebuilding the Borders Railway, the Alloa branch and the Airdrie to Bathgate line all encountered challenges of adapting alignments built on Victorian principles to the demands of twenty-first century standards. It’s been no different for the Levenmouth Project, although that degree of experience is proving to be invaluable in progressing the line towards a rapid opening, planned for next year.

Safety has been, as always, absolutely critical in the construction process. Particular attention has been paid to the profile and stability of earthworks. That was an issue addressed in many locations on the Borders Railway, which was originally built to what may be politely be described as a restricted gauge. Significant strengthening was undertaken to bring embankments and cuttings up to modern standards.

Engineering trains

Similar exacting standards are being applied as the second phase of track work continues on the Levenmouth project. Following the successful completion of the first mile in March, which included connecting to the mainline at Thornton junction, significant work followed to install cable runs and drainage systems. Work there is now complete and will shortly be commissioned and enter into service as operational railway to enable engineering trains to assist in the delivery of subsequent phases of work.

Connected. Thornton Junction (Network Rail)

With all traces of the original track lifted and existing ballast removed to reveal the formation level of the track-bed, work will focus on rebuilding the railway solum wide enough to accommodate both running lines. In order to ensure enough space for the new double-track sections, some work is required to profile sections of embankment adjacent to the line.

Reconnected and soon to be reopened

Despite the active programme of reopening in Scotland – there has been criticism of the lack of freight provision in most of the projects. However, there is potential for goods traffic on the Levenmouth line, if the newly reconnected railway neighbours take advantage.

Work to upgrade Thornton North Junction and connect the branch to the main line was completed during a line closure early in March. The entire project, around nine route kilometres and 117 million pounds (138 million euro) is scheduled to complete in Spring 2024.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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