Friday 15 Jan 2010


Region & Route:
Southern: Wessex
| Southern

As 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, Network Rail has successfully lowered both tracks through Southampton Tunnel more than a year ahead of schedule

The original plan had been to lower one track during a full closure over the Christmas to new year period in 2009 and the second track during the same period in 2010.  However, using new technology and smarter ways of working the work was carried out with just one major closure in 2009, together with some weekends and overnights in December, significantly reducing the disruption for passengers.

Richard O’Brien, Network Rail’s route director for Wessex, said: “This was the most complex piece of work out of the 50 or so structures we are upgrading as part of this scheme.  It would be impossible to carry out a project of this scale without closing the line at some point, but the innovation and commitment of our engineers means we were able to keep disruption to a minimum.  In the past, a job like this would probably have meant the railway being closed for 12 weeks.

“We still have a lot of work to do on other parts of the route from Southampton to the West Midlands before the benefits of carrying the larger containers by rail can be realised, but we have made a very positive start.”

Ian Johnson, Customer Service Director for South West Trains, added: “This was a great example of the industry working successfully together to deliver a large improvement scheme whilst keeping disruption to a minimum. We would like to thank our customers for their patience during these works.”

The upgrade of Southampton railway tunnel is required to enable bigger 9' 6" or ‘high-cube’ containers to be transported efficiently by rail from Associated British Ports' Port of Southampton across the country, making a valuable contribution to the economy and helping Britain compete better in the global marketplace.  Rail can also provide a cheaper, greener and more practical way of transporting freight compared with road. 

Peter Cusdin, development director at South East England Development Agency (SEEDA), added: “By providing infrastructure improvements on this key import/export route the partnership is delivering increased competitiveness and environmental improvements for the UK. The benefits will have a positive impact on the economies of Southampton, the South East, the Midlands and ultimately the country as a whole.”

Aart Hille Ris Lambers, business development manager, DP World Southampton, said:  “We are delighted to hear that the works on the Southampton Tunnel have been completed so far ahead of schedule, which has helped limit the disruption to local rail users.  With more high cube containers moving through the port than ever, the overall gauge clearance project will help our customers move more containers off the roads and onto rail.”

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 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 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.

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.


SEEDA, the South East England Development Agency, is the Government-funded agency responsible for the sustainable economic development of the South East of England – the driving force of the UK’s economy. Through supporting businesses, encouraging innovation, developing skills and engaging with public and private partners, we aim to create a successful, sustainable future for the region.

SEEDA’s support helped deliver the following over the period 2005-2008:
-        17,500 jobs created or safeguarded
-         32,500 people helped to get work
-        10,000 businesses created or attracted to region
-        137,500 businesses assisted
-        £638m investment, 45% levered from private sector
-         200ha Brownfield land remediated
-        148,500 people assisted in skills development

Contact information

Passengers / community members
Network Rail national helpline
03457 11 41 41

Latest travel advice
Please visit National Rail Enquiries

Network Rail press office - South East route
020 3357 7969

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.

Usually, there are almost five 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.

Follow us on Twitter: @networkrail
Visit our online newsroom: