Published: 22nd February 2015
The two major UK rail route re-openings are progressing according to plan with the Borders Line scheduled to open in under 200 days time on September 5 between Newcraighall and Tweedbank.
The second line is the 12 mile section, disused for 21 years between just west of Bletchley and Claydon Junction in Buckinghamshire – part of the Varsity Oxford to Cambridge line. The last train ran in March 1993 so consequently the route has become overgrown and used as a footpath.
This mothballed section is due to reopen in four years time as a 100mph electrified railway linking Bedford, Aylesbury, Oxford and Milton Keynes and will cross HS2 at Calvert, the location of the HS2 Maintenance depot.
But before this can happen, the mothballed single track has to be lifted and a new double track has to be laid and the proposed quantity and speed of traffic requires a good formation to be built. This can only be constructed once geotechnical physical surveys have been carried out to check ground stability, drainage and water levels. These investigations have now commenced alongside more vegetation clearance.
The East West Rail (EWR) project has established a work compound at Verney Junction and was set up at the end of 2014. This will be operative until the autumn and others will be located at Steeple Claydon and Swanbourne until April. The track space between the platforms at Verney Junction is being used as a compound for storing large machinery.
Vegetation management and general maintenance of the railway corridor is now being undertaken for a couple of months. This will be carried out by Parsons Brinckerhoff, BAM Richies, carrying out the drilling work for the geotechnical surveys while Murphy's are carrying out the vegetation clearance work with Thomson Habitats providing ecological expertise.
Once work on the mothballed section is completed, similar work will be carried out on the 30mph goods line between Claydon and Aylesbury plus the passenger line to Princes Risborough.
The EWR team has erected trespass warning signs at the public crossings to make sure users stick to the footpaths. They will be seeing plant and machinery being used on the mothballed line and safety cannot be compromised. Crossing use is being monitored by Network Rail to assist in designing the new railway to be as safe an environment as possible.
Ground investigation surveys are taking place with some temporary drainage installed at flooding locations as well as drilling boreholes for geotechnical surveys and water table investigations.
The business case for reopening the section between Bedford and the East Coast Main Line closed 50 years ago, was boosted by The Prime Minister. He has announced that the Government will extend the study already underway of the East-West Rail (Bedford to Cambridge), to explore the options for the Eastern section of the line.
Relaying 30 miles of the Borders Line has been completed with a ceremonial fixing of the final rail by Keith Brown, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure. He travelled on the first train to reach Tweedbank station and the end of the new line. Mr Brown clipped the final rail into place with Hugh Wark, Network Rail’s project director for the Borders Railway.
Track-laying started last October and over 1000 rails were laid on over 90,000 sleepers creating the UK’s longest new domestic railway for over a hundred years.
Mr Brown said: “It is a huge honour to put the final piece of track in place and travel on the first train to run into the Borders in almost half a century. The reopening of this line offers a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a major economic and social boost for the communities it will serve.
"I have no doubt that Borders Railway will be hugely successful, both in enhancing Scotland’s infrastructure and transforming business opportunities along the line.”
Hugh Wark added: “The completion of rail installation is a major milestone for the project and keeps the line on-track to open for passengers in September. While we still have a significant amount of infrastructure to complete along the route – from installing signalling to completing the stations – we're confident that this much-anticipated addition to Scotland’s railway will be delivered on schedule.”
With the track laid, the project team will completing ballast spreading, tamping, track welding, installing signalling and communications equipment and completing the construction and fit-out of seven new stations – at Shawfair, Eskbank, Newtongrange, Gorebridge, Stow, Galashiels and Tweedbank.
An estimated 866 directly employed staff have worked 2.1 million hours since construction began. Including supplier personnel directly employed by the project, the total number of project jobs is in excess of 1,100 with local people and suppliers the main beneficiary.
The line is forecast to bring major economic and social development opportunities and will use many steam services to bring tourists into the area. Staff training will bring engines operating on the line from June ready to carry passenger trains 12 weeks later.
The then First Minister, Alex Salmond announced last summer that an iconic steam engine would be the centrepiece of the event launching the longest new domestic railway constructed in Britain for over 100 years.
This is likely to be a ‘LMS Black 5’ at one end of the train and a diesel at the other end as there are no shunting facilities at Tweedbank. There may be between 15 and 20 steam services on the line in the six weeks after it opens with other services running across Scotland to the far north and west. These are part of the new Abellio operated Scotrail franchise.
Transport Scotland and partners have formed a Borders Railway Opening Celebrations Committee to look after the administration around this event. Locals have been asked how they would like to mark the opening of the railway and some will be entered for a Golden Ticket for the inaugural journey. Its going to be a party!