£23m landslip repair set to reopen Settle-Carlisle railway line in March 2017: Eden Brows railway repair diagram

Thursday 7 Jul 2016

£23m landslip repair set to reopen Settle-Carlisle railway line in March 2017

Region & Route:
| North West & Central

Repairs to a 500,000-tonne landslip in Cumbria will see the iconic Settle to Carlisle railway line fully reopen to trains by the end of March 2017, Network Rail announced today (7 July).

Engineers are building an enormous concrete and steel, tunnel-like structure that will sit beneath the railway, 70 metres above the River Eden, to provide a stable base across the damaged and unstable ground.

Two rows of high-strength piles - steel tubes filled with concrete - will then be driven into the sloping bedrock of the Eden gorge, north of Armathwaite.

The hundreds of piles will form a corridor, set into the hillside, on which a 1.5 metre-thick, 100 metre-long concrete slab will then be placed. This slab will form a solid base for the tracks.

This £23 million engineering solution was selected by Network Rail from among six* possible options.

This structure will stabilise a section of gorge bank above the River Eden which gave way in February causing ground below the railway to slip 1.5 metres below its normal level in the weeks that followed.

Since then the line has been shut, initially between Appleby and Carlisle, until Northern services began running as far as Armathwaite in June, with buses operating between Armathwaite and Carlisle.

In addition to the solid structure being built beneath the railway, an extensive earthworks project, costing an estimated £5 million, is planned to protect the foot of the bank down to the river. Drainage systems and ‘rock armour’, which helps prevent erosion, followed by tree replanting will stabilise the land.

Martin Frobisher, managing director for Network Rail’s London North Western route, said: “The tunnel-like structure we’re building will safeguard this section of railway for generations to come. If the land gives way again, the railway will not.

“This is a complex repair job many months in the planning. We are now focused on getting this iconic and much-loved line fully reopened right the way to Carlisle as soon as possible, which according to our programme of work will be by the end of March 2017.

“We recognise the impact the closure of the line between Appleby and Carlisle has had on local communities, especially during the summer tourist season, and we’re really pleased Northern now have services running as far as Armathwaite. We would remind people that the Settle-Carlisle Line remains very much open for business.

“Network Rail remains strongly committed to the Settle-Carlisle line. We regard this line as an essential freight corridor and vital for local communities and the regional economy.”

Today (Thursday 7 July) Network Rail teamed up with members of the Friends of Settle Carlisle Line (FoSCL) and Northern to meet with local people, calling at homes and dropping leaflets in the local communities of Appleby, Langwathby, Lazonby, Kirkoswald and Armathwaite.

Between 3pm and 7pm on Thursday 7 July a public drop-in session will be held for local residents at the village hall in Armwathwaite. Members of the project team will be on hand to answer questions.

While the Appleby-Carlisle section of the line has been shut Network Rail has carried out other upgrades to avoid additional future disruption, including embankment strengthening at Barons Wood and improvements to Low Mill level crossing.

Douglas Hodgins, chairman of FoSCL, said: “We have been working closely with Network Rail and Northern over the past months to get the best of outcomes to what could have been a catastrophic event for the line's present and future.  

“The enormity of the repair task cannot be overstated. We are very grateful that such effort has been put into getting us to this stage and we are all working hard to ensure that the line - built as a main line between London and Scotland - can resume its role as a vital part of the UK's rail network as soon as possible.

“This particular bit of the Eden gorge slipped in the 1870s when the line was being built. It took the then Midland Railway two years to stabilise the ground with Victorian resources and know-how.  We are immensely grateful to Network Rail for devising and commissioning this 21st century solution.”

Alex Hynes, managing director for Northern, said: “The engineering challenge for the Network Rail team at Eden Brows has been huge and it’s fantastic to hear their solution will contribute to protecting this beautiful route for rail users in years to come.

“From the end of June, we’ve been operating trains as far north as Armathwaite, with a bus service connecting Armathwaite and Carlisle, meaning the Settle to Carlisle route remains open to visitors throughout the summer months. We look forward to reopening the route fully in March 2017.”

Graham Young, head of production for DB Cargo UK, said: "Network Rail should be congratulated on the huge efforts being made to repair the line following the landslip in February and to stabilise it for future generations. The enormous and complex engineering challenge involved cannot be under-estimated. The famed Settle-Carlisle line provides a vital freight link and since its closure in February we have been using diversionary routes. We're looking forward to again running trains, carrying a range of products for our customers, on the Settle-Carlisle line when it re-opens in 2017."

Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith & the Border, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, said: "Network Rail's work on this complex repair has been arduous and difficult for all concerned, not least the commuters who rely on the line. I wholeheartedly welcome the news of the reopening, and want to thank Network Rail for their dedication in doing this difficult work as expediently as they can."

The Eden Brows repair programme includes the following nine phases:

  1. Access ramps built to bring piling rigs on to the site.
  2. Trains begin removing spoil from site as the old track bed is removed.
  3. Temporary piles – steel tubes filled with concrete – installed to stabilise the piling rigs.
  4. First row of contiguous piles, near the brow of the slope, installed.
  5. Second row of contiguous piles, on the side closest to the river, installed.
  6. Concrete slab laid over the top of piles, forming a tunnel-like structure.
  7. Track with aggregate and ballast beneath laid on top of the concrete slab.
  8. Driver training before reopening of the shut section of line.
  9. Any follow-up works required in order to restore full line speed of 60mph.

In December, three to four lorry-loads per day of concrete are set to arrive at the Eden Brows site. The traffic route, agreed with the council, will take deliveries via the main road through the village of Cumwinton, reducing the impact on nearby Armathwaite.

Once the railway is reopened Network Rail plans to carry out earthworks improvements to the foot of the embankment below the line and above the River Eden.

This will include drainage ditches and pipework, rock armour to guard against erosion when flows are high, and finally replanting trees over the entirety of the affected area.

Great care is being taken to ensure ecology is protected, including badger setts and spawning salmon. Natural England will advise on the tree replanting.


Notes to editors

*Engineering solutions considered for the Eden Brows land slip included:

  • Significantly moving the course of the Settle & Carlisle railway.
  • Less major alteration to the course of the railway.
  • Building a bridge
  • Digging out the entire gorge embankment and filling it with solid material.
  • Groundworks involving multiple criss-crossing rock-anchored supports.
  • The piling and slab solution that has been decided on.

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