Monday 21 Mar 2016
Historic rail tunnels to be upgraded as electrification of the railway moves west
Network Rail’s orange army will be transforming the 130-year-old Severn and Patchway tunnels this autumn in preparation for the arrival of a new fleet of longer, faster, quieter and greener electric trains.
The work forms part of Network Rail’s £40bn Railway Upgrade Plan to provide a bigger, better, more reliable railway for passengers and follows projects already underway in Bristol, Bath, Swindon, Didcot and Oxford to electrify the Great Western Main Line.
Communication with passengers about the disruption to their journeys is already taking place with emails sent to over one million season ticket holders and an intensive programme of leafleting, in-station advertising and announcements planned.
The work required to prepare both tunnels for electrification is extensive and will involve installing conductor beams to power the new fleet of electric trains to run underneath. To install this beam in the Severn tunnel, four tonnes of soot needs to be removed and extensive improvements made to the brick work.
The scale of this engineering challenge together with the type of machinery required to carry out the work means that a temporary closure of both tunnels is unavoidable. This temporary closure will take place over six weeks, from 12 September to 21 October 2016.
Mark Langman, Network Rail’s managing director for the Western route, said: “Electrification has many long-term benefits including faster, more frequent trains and a boost to economic growth in towns and cities across the whole of the Western route and beyond.
“I’d like to thank passengers in advance for their patience and understanding while we deliver the essential upgrades needed to prepare these tunnels for electrification and the benefits this will bring.
“Throughout the work, the Great Western route will remain open but we are urging people to check before they travel. Some journeys, especially those in and out of Wales, will take longer and a bus replacement service will be in operation in some cases.”
Rob Mullen, Great Western Railway’s general manager central, said: "The electrification of the two tunnels is a vital part of the modernisation of the railway between the south west, Wales and London; and once complete will enable us to deliver more frequent services, more seats, and to reduce journey times.
"Electrification will also deliver a greener and quieter railway, resulting in cleaner air and a reduction in noise for those living near the railway.
“We would like to thank our passengers in advance for their understanding and patience as this vital work is conducted."
Over the next six months, Network Rail and Great Western Railway will continue with their extensive engagement programme to ensure passengers can make informed travel choices during the temporary closure.
Updates will also be available on Twitter via @networkrailwest and @gwrhelp.
Notes to editors
The work on the Severn and Patchway tunnels will affect the majority of passengers who travel in and out of South Wales including those who travel to and from London, Portsmouth Harbour and south west England.
Trains running between Bristol and Cardiff will run via Gloucester and passengers traveling to and from London Paddington will also be diverted via Gloucester with extended journey times and a reduced frequency of trains. Rail replacement buses will be in operation for other services.
About Network Rail’s Railway Upgrade Plan
The Railway Upgrade Plan is Network Rail’s £40bn spending plan for Britain’s railways for the five year period up to 31 March 2019. The plan is designed to provide more capacity, relieve crowding and respond to tremendous growth the railways have seen – a doubling of passengers in the past twenty years. The plan will deliver a bigger, better railway with more trains, longer trains, faster trains with more infrastructure, more reliable infrastructure and better facilities for passengers, especially at stations.
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About Network Rail
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.
Every day, there are more than 4.8 million journeys made in the UK and over 600 freight trains run on the network. People depend on Britain's railway for their daily commute, to visit friends and loved ones and to get them home safe every day. Our role is to deliver a safe and reliable railway, so we carefully manage and deliver thousands of projects every year that form part of the multi-billion pound Railway Upgrade Plan, to grow and expand the nation's railway network to respond to the tremendous growth and demand the railway has experienced - a doubling of passenger journeys over the past 20 years.