Rail teams throughout the UK worked hard over Christmas and the New Year to bring crucial new efficiencies and maintain safety across our networks.
Fewer people use the railway over Christmas, so infrastructure owners such as Network Rail make the most of this time to deliver significant upgrades while many of us are at home or visiting our relatives.
As a result, a significant number of improvements happened on our railways in the past couple of weeks.
Teams in Manchester carried out major upgrades to the track and signalling in the city.
More than 100 rail workers carried out improvements between Christmas Day and Monday, 3 January 2022. The teams installed four new track components, completed two sections of new electric wiring and upgraded signalling equipment near Manchester Victoria station.
The ambition on the part of Network Rail was to bring a more modern, reliable railway and create the capacity for more trains to run in the future, improving connectivity across the North.
The work was part of the wider Transpennine Route Upgrade which will bring faster, more reliable services for passengers travelling between York, Leeds, Huddersfield and Manchester.
Transpennine Route upgrade director for Network Rail, Neil Holm, said: “We’re making real progress in delivering better, more enjoyable rail journeys for those travelling in Manchester. The work we’ve completed over Christmas will allow us to run more and faster trains in the future as part of the Transpennine Route Upgrade.
“We’ll need to continue upgrading the railway in and around Manchester throughout 2022 to complete a package of benefits aimed at improving passengers’ experience. I’d like to thank people for their patience as we continue to deliver a better railway for the north of England.”
Further work to renew track in Manchester is planned every Sunday between 9 January and 6 February, which will mean some changes to services.
£22 million of improvements were delivered between Paddington and Penzance.
This included work between London Paddington and Slough, where engineers replaced old signalling equipment; a railway bridge replacement in Stroud over the canal at the Ocean in Stonehouse – allowing boats to pass through for the first time since 1968; laying a kilometre of new track either side of Bristol Parkway station; and the installation of tactile paving at Bristol Temple Meads.
Network Rail Western route and strategic operations director, Mike Gallop, said: “I’m really pleased with the upgrades our engineers have completed over the festive period. These upgrades will help ensure we continue to run a safe and reliable railway for years to come, not forgetting also enabling boats to pass through the canal at the Ocean in Stonehouse for the first time since 1968.”
“Undertaking this work over the festive period when there are fewest people travelling – particularly with no trains on Christmas Day and very few on Boxing Day – ensured the number of passengers disrupted were kept to a minimum. However, we are grateful to passengers and local residents living near to our work sites for their patience and understanding while we have undertaken these upgrades.
“The festive period is a really critical time for us to make vital upgrades to the railway and completing £22m of engineering work is no mean feat so I’d also like to thank the many men and women from Network Rail who gave up their festive periods so we can complete these upgrades for the benefit of our passengers.”
GWR managing director, Mark Hopwood, said: “We always work closely with Network Rail to make sure essential track and signalling improvements can take place when fewer people are travelling, and this Christmas and New Year was no exception.
“These upgrades are important to ensure we can continue to provide safe and reliable services, and I’m grateful to our customers for the patience they have shown during this time.
“I’d like to thank the project teams for their hard work and dedication over the festive period, and I’d also remind customers to continue to check their journeys into the new year due to the impact of COVID and associated staff availability.”
Meanwhile, work was carried out over the festive period on lines in north London, Essex and Norfolk. This included:
- Replacing the overhead wires at Stratford to prevent delays caused by sagging wires when the weather gets hot;
- Preparation works for the renewal of the roof at London Liverpool Street station to maintain safety and improve passenger experience;
- Replacing a set of points at Norwich and Liverpool St stations, enabling the smooth running of services at two of the busiest stations on the route;
- Replacement of wheel timbers, sleepers and rails and strengthening work at Camden bridge in north London to maintain safe and reliable services;
- Replacement of a life-expired bridge in Neasden, London which carries freight lines over London underground lines. The new bridge is expected to last 120 years, reducing the need for further repair works;
- Bridge replacements at Christian Street and Morris Street near Shadwell station to maintain safety and reliability and prevent the need for speed restrictions that cause delays;
- Supporting the highways authority in Essex in works to remove a bridge at Generals Lane near Chelmsford.
Network Rail’s route director for Anglia, Ellie Burrows, said: “While Santa was delivering presents, our engineering teams did their bit to sprinkle a bit of festive magic over the railway by improving our tracks, stations and bridges so that we can continue to run a reliable railway for passengers and freight users. We know the railway provides an essential service for many, and completing these works means we can continue to do this for years to come.”
In North Shropshire, engineers used Boxing Day to replace a bridge between Shrewsbury and Crewe. An old bridge, which had been in place more than 100 years, was removed and replaced using a “self-propelled modular transporter”. This meant minimal road closures.
Once in place, engineers and contractors worked both night and day to backfill and compact the foundations for the new track bed, install the new track panels and rail and compress the ballast underneath the track.
Three days later, rail services had resumed.
Development director Mid, North and Rural Wales at Transport for Wales, Lee Robinson, added: “Part of what makes our rail network unique is its history and heritage. This also means that parts of our network are old and need updating and modernising to meet the needs of our customers now and in the future.
“The upgrade to the bridge at Wem is a perfect example, and thank you to all our customers who have been so understanding as this work was carried out. May this upgrade work last another 100 years!”
Meanwhile, the biggest track upgrade at Leeds station for two decades has been finished.
Network Rail said the improvements would provide a more reliable railway for passengers.
From 25 December 2021 until Monday 3 January 2022, more than 200 railway staff remodelled the track layout between platforms 4 and 6. The new layout improves the way trains move in and out of the station, which will help to reduce delays.
Other work included installing over 1,500 metres of new electric wires and renewing over 200 metres of track to improve reliability. Platform 7 was also extended so that longer trains can stop at the platform.
North and East route director for Network Rail, Matt Rice, said: “These important improvements at Leeds make it easier for us to run more trains on time right across the North. We had to run some bus replacement services over the course of the festive period and COVID also affected some services, so thanks to all those passengers who chose to travel.
“The progress we’ve made means better journeys for everyone using the train in 2022 and beyond.”
Minor follow-up work will take place on Sunday 30 January 2022, which will mean some changes to services to and from Leeds station.