Published: 7th April 2014
Work on the East West Rail project commenced on February 10 with environmental assessment work carried out by ecologists on the mothballed section of the route. This work was completed in a month and included vegetation clearance to enable environmental and ecology specialists to carry out their assessments.
The mothballed section starts at Newton Longville, a mile west of Bletchley and runs to a mile east of Claydon station, a distance of 11 ½ miles and has not seen a train since May 31, 1993. This was a Branch Line Society three car Class 117 Network Southeast DMU which also visited Wolverton Works and the Akeman Street branch between Aylesbury and Calvert.
In mid 2013, ecologists installed nearly 500 dormouse monitoring boxes in trees and bushes along the 11 ½ mile section as well as hundreds of reptile monitoring pads. This had to be done before any vegetation clearance work commenced to make sure wildlife was not disturbed and are being checked for evidence of occupation such as droppings left behind in the boxes. The last detailed rail inspection was 15 years ago when a travelers’ site was found in one area during a two day exercise in March 1999 when railway engineers walked the line from east to west.
Vegetation clearance work has been carried out by Avondale under the strict guidance of Thompson Habitat environmental specialists. The work involved clearing 85 one metre wide strips across the railway to the boundary fencelines at specified intervals.
Contractors have been using three pieces of yellow plant including a road-rail unimog which became the first item to run on sections of the line for about 15 years, when the line was last cleared. A tracked excavator with a 360 degree flail and a 6 metre range has been used along with a tracked excavator to allow access to the various huge earthworks on the route.
The rolling topographical nature of the route means that much of the line runs on embankments or in cuttings, and these have been subject to slippage as indicated by the buckled rails or no ballast remaining in several places. A small proportion of rails and sleepers, (about 10%) have been stolen over the years.
The yellow plant has not been allowed to operate over bridges carrying the railway as these structures have to be inspected deemed safe for load bearing duties. The various contractors have used yellow paint on the rails and on the lineside to indicate hazards such as catch pits, cables, badger sets, environmentally sensitive locations and to mark 400 metre sections. About half of the mileposts are still in existence along the line being undisturbed for the last 21 years.
Red and white tape has also been used on trees and bushes to mark environmentally important areas so vegetation is not disturbed before a full assessment by the ecologists has been carried out. This includes making sure no endangered species is compromised such as Adders, Dormice, Badgers and other reptiles.
These markings, will eventually be used by Network Rail to provide locational information for topographical surveys made from the air and on foot. This is all part of the track and earthworks information needed to enable contractors to establish the scope of groundworks required.
The line has been subject to flooding in many locations as the drainage has failed and structures over the railway will also be subject to a detailed inspection. But work has already been carried out on bridge 25 near Verney Junction by a team of three working for 10 weeks until February 22 repairing brickwork and the parapet.
Amazingly, a live cable was found by contractors running between Claydon LNE Junction signal box to Claydon crossing a mile away which Amey maintained in working order for six years after the last train ran! Vegetation was cleared on the route between the two cesses before the bird nesting season commenced in early March.
The route to Bedford has over 100 crossings and these must be safety assessed as trains will operate frequently and at 100mph so many of these crossings will need to be replaced by bridges. This will probably mean that the line between Bletchley and Bedford will not be electrified until 2019.
Rail.co.uk would like to thank Caryl Jones from the EWR Consortium and contractors Avondale and Thompson Habitat for their assistance making site visits.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin visited the construction site near Bicester North Station to hear how work on the new east-west rail scheme will transform travel across the region. Somewhat amazingly, it was a private visit despite the project being a great example of a good news rail story.#
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: Our railways are a success story and we are building on that success through record levels of investment. The start of work on this new route is proof our investment is paying off, with improved connections boosting services across the region for the benefit of passengers and local businesses.
He also visited where the location of the new Oxford Parkway station and then went on a few miles to Bicester Town to see the new trackwork underway. This will enable trains from Oxford to run to and from Marylebone from 2015 and to pave the way for more services from Bedford and Milton Keynes by 2017.