Huge programme of engineering works in UK

A huge programme of works is planned over the Festive break in the UK. The end of December until the first week in January is the most intense period of maintenance, upgrades and installations.

’Twas the night before Christmas. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. Except on the UK railway network, where it’s busier than Santa’s grotto. Here’s a seasonal selection of a dozen projects that will bring the most benefit to freight operations.

According to the infrastructure operator Network Rail, 20,560 UK railway staff will be working around the clock, delivering a sack-full of 386 projects over the break. Most of the projects are designed to improve the intensively used passenger network, but here are the twelve works of Christmas that will most benefit freight reliability and capacity too.

Track and points renewals between London Paddington and Slough will smooth flows between South East England and South Wales. In particular, bulk construction materials from Devon and Cornwall. Add to that works around Exeter too, benefitting traffic such as cement from the West of England to construction projects in London.

Also benefiting from improved track reliability on the Great Western mainline will be the south-north vehicle and intermodal trains from Southampton Docks to Hams Hall in Birmingham and beyond.

High Speed renewals

East of London, at Ashford on the high speed line in Kent, switches and crossings will be renewed, improving paths for cross-channel traffic.

Re-railing and track maintenance work between London Liverpool Street and Hackney Downs is designed to improve service reliability. The London station will be the city terminus for next May’s trial enterprise goods train deliveries from London Gateway intermodal terminal.

Work on the main line routes north from Liverpool Street will help with capacity issues at Felixstowe – Britain’s biggest intermodal port. Long term works are intended to take increasing goods traffic away from the ‘Great Eastern’ main line altogether.

Track renewals at Haymarket, in the west of Edinburgh, will maintain access to a key freight avoiding route, which currently carries over seventy movements a day. With the average freight train replacing 76 HGVs, suburban Edinburgh remains all the more thankful for that.

Andrew Haines, Network Rail’s chief executive, said customers expect a more reliable railway. “This Christmas we are working on the railway across the country to improve services. Railway staff will deliver 386 projects over the Christmas and New Year period.”

Engineering trains

Given the extent of operations over the Festive Period, infrastructure trains will be the most common non-passenger traffic on the network. 120 trains are scheduled between now and 2 January, delivering over 53,000 tonnes of ballast, rails, support materials, and the not insignificant matter of 14,000 new sleepers.

Capacity improvements at Leeds station, in support of more passenger handling, will also benefit the key freight route connecting east and west coast ports in the north of England, and serving inland facilities around Manchester. Routes through Leeds station will be subject to blockade 27-29 December.

Bristol and Cardiff will be disconnected from each other for a week from 27 December, for a variety of maintenance matters. Services resume on 2 January, on a route that carries intermodal and bulk traffic between England and South Wales.

West, East, Midland

The West Coast Main Line, used at least in part by the majority of all freight traffic in the UK, has works planned for the section in Scotland, while on the mixed-traffic East Coast Main Line, there are works on the line around Peterborough.

Over the Midland Main Line, around Bletchley, there’s bridge Installation work planned for a new line, which will eventually connect Oxford and Cambridge. The ‘East-West’ had its planned specification upgraded to include future freight flows. A grade-separated junction will avoid conflict with the intensively used route between London and the English Midlands.

The 374 other projects range from platform works to signalling and power supply renewals. Despite that, Network Rail says most of the railway will remain open. Most freight terminals are operational too, with only short closures for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Unlike the words of the famous carol, there will be very few silent nights on the railway this Christmas.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

Add your comment

characters remaining.

Log in through one of the following social media partners to comment.