Monday 19 Oct 2009


Region & Route:
Southern: Wessex
| Southern

The biggest part of a £71m project designed to remove up to 50,000 lorries a year from the region’s roads and provide a cheaper, quicker and more practical way of transporting goods around the country starts in Southampton over the Christmas period. 

The upgrade of Southampton railway tunnel, which is supported by local business, is required to enable bigger 9' 6" or ‘high-cube’ containers to be transported efficiently by rail from Associated British Ports' (ABP) Port of Southampton across the country, making a valuable contribution to the local economy and helping Britain compete better in the global marketplace.

Richard O’Brien, Network Rail’s route director for Wessex, said: “Rail can provide a cheaper, greener and more practical way of transporting freight compared with road.  This project aims to increase the amount of freight transported from Southampton by rail, which in turn will bring long-term benefits for city and the surrounding area.

“Of the 50 structures we’re upgrading, Southampton tunnel is by far the most significant.  Previously it would have been necessary to fully close the tunnel fully for up to 12 weeks to carry out the upgrade. Today, using new technology and smarter ways of working, the full closure can be reduced to less than 30 days. We can assure passengers that we have made every effort to keep as many trains as possible running while we carry out this work to keep disruption to a minimum.  We recommend passengers check their train times before they travel.”

New technology and work practices have significantly reduced the amount of time that the tunnel needs to be closed. The first part of the tunnel upgrade to lower the tracks starts on 30 November 2009, and will continue until 10 January 2010.  Where possible, work will be carried out on one of the tracks through the tunnel while trains continue to run on the other.  During the working week (Monday to Friday) passengers will be able to travel through the tunnel by train for most of the time, although some people may have to change trains in the Southampton area.

Not all of the work can be done while trains are running.  Therefore the tunnel will need to be closed completely on week nights between approximately 11.15pm – 5.45am and at weekends.  In addition the tunnel will be closed completely from 25 December 2009 until 4 January 2010.  Diversions and bus replacement services will be in operation during these closures.

The second phase of the project is scheduled to be carried during the Christmas 2010 / New Year 2011 period.

For further details about the alteration to train services to and from Southampton between 30 November 2009 – 10 January 2010 and other passenger arrangements visit .

The Chamber of Commerce in Southampton has been in discussions with Network Rail during the planning stages and is fully supportive of the scheme.  Jimmy Chestnutt, director general, said: “The Southampton Chamber is very pleased with the level of consultation and listening done by Network Rail to bring about this major rail upgrade for Southampton and local businesses.   We have supported this project from the start and were instrumental in gaining the support of other Chambers along the rail freight route for the funding request.”  

Freight services are indispensable to everyday life.  They deliver food, clothing, electronics and other goods to stock shops and supermarkets, coal to provide electricity to power the nation and aggregates for major industries. The freight industry makes a valuable contribution to the regional and national economy, and the government is investing £350m in projects to achieve the significant economic, efficiency and environmental benefits rail freight offers.

The other structures in Southampton which need upgrading as part of the Southampton to Nuneaton freight project are St Denys Road bridge and the canopies at St Denys and Swaythling stations.  The station canopies will be trimmed back, while the half of St Denys Road bridge which carries the south-bound carriageway will need to be replaced.  To maximise efficiency and reduce passenger disruption, these pieces of work will also be carried out between 24 December 2009 and 4 January 2010, the same time the railway is closed for the tunnel works.

South West Trains, Southern, Cross Country and First Great Western trains will be affected during the tunnel upgrade.  Passengers are advised to check with National Rail Enquiries (0845 7 48 49 50 / before they finalise their travel plans.

Notes to editors

The Southampton to Nuneaton freight upgrade scheme will bring the following benefits:

Vehicles off the road
It is estimated this scheme will enable the transfer of up to 50,000 container freight journeys a year from the Britain’s roads to the railway.  This will help reduce carbon emissions and ease traffic congestion on the road network.

Rail is also one of the most environmentally friendly forms of transport.  Road freight generates six times more carbon dioxide than rail freight for each tonne moved, so the greater transfer of freight from road to rail as a result of this scheme will lead to a significant reduction of carbon emissions. 

High cube containers are larger than standard containers, and therefore more items can be transported within them, making them a more efficient means of distributing goods.

Rail can be a cheaper, quicker and a more practical way for businesses to transport their goods around the country and beyond.

At present high cube containers are too big to be carried on standard height platform wagons on much of the rail network.  Therefore the only way to carry them by rail is on special low wagons.  However, this reduces efficiency and capacity by up to 33%, making rail a less competitive form of transport for freight.

Economic growth
The upgraded rail freight link will improve the competitiveness and encourage economic growth within the South East region.  This project will also make it easier to import and export goods, helping Britain compete more effectively in the global market.


The route will take freight trains from Southampton to the West Coast Main Line near Nuneaton, via Winchester, Basingstoke, Didcot, Oxford, Banbury, Leamington Spa and Warwick. Improvement works are being planned along this route to structures which are not currently large enough for high-cube containers to pass through.  These are scheduled to be carried out over the next two years.

Funding for this project has been agreed from the Department for Transport (DfT) via a Transport Innovation Fund TIF(P) grant.  Additional funding is being provided by South East England Development Agency (SEEDA), ABP, DP World Southampton, Advantage West Midlands (AWM), European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Network Rail Discretionary Fund.

The DfT’s Transport Innovation Fund, The Future of Transport" (July 2004) supports the costs of smarter, innovative local transport packages that combine demand management measures *support innovative mechanisms which raise new funds; *support the funding of regional, inter-regional and local schemes that are beneficial to national productivity.

The current freight container market is seeing a significant growth in the percentage of ‘high cube’ containers. The usage of 9’ 6” containers currently stands at over 40%. This is expected to rise to between 50% and 70% by 2019.

Network Rail, in partnership with the passenger and freight train operators, has consulted with a range of individuals and organisations, including Southampton city council, the Chamber of Commerce in Southampton, West Quay traders association and local politicians throughout the planning of the Southampton tunnel / St Denys project.

Contact information

Passengers / community members
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03457 11 41 41

Latest travel advice
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Network Rail press office - South East route
020 3357 7969

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We own, operate and develop Britain's railway infrastructure; that's 20,000 miles of track, 30,000 bridges, tunnels and viaducts and the thousands of signals, level crossings and stations. We run 20 of the UK's largest stations while all the others, over 2,500, are run by the country's train operating companies.

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