by Phil Marsh

West Coast Main Line February closure at Watford postponed due to landslip near Banbury

Published: 8th February 2015

Island Line landslip repairs progressing well

A couple of years ago, Network Rail (NR) proposed closing the West Coast Main Line (WCML) for weeks on end to enable them to complete the WCML upgrade they had announced as completed eight years ago.

The original completion announcement was made as NR quietly dropped upgrade works in the Watford area and the money saved proved to be a false economy as the track, signalling and overhead wires could not cope with the intensive services operated by Virgin and London Midland.

This brought the proposal to close the line for weeks at a time which was rejected by train companies. This in turn brought eight shorter closures such as the two weekend closures in February which would have seen some services diverted via Banbury and into Euston.

But the massive earthslip at Harbury tunnel between Banbury and Leamington has prevented trains running between those two stations. The rail industry has taken the decision to postpone the February blockades at Watford because the diversionary route via Banbury was no longer available.

What has happened?

Bank stabilisation work was being carried by Harbury tunnel but on January 31, the bank gave way and an estimated 350,000 tons of earth slid a few metres towards the railway line. This means that the Chiltern main line will be closed between Banbury and Leamington for several weeks and the diverted Virgin services could not run.

But don’t forget, the work scheduled for Watford at Easter is still currently planned to go ahead and the line will be blocked with trains diverted .

They said:

Mark Carne, NR chief executive, said: “Passengers must come first and with the alternative route from Birmingham to London now blocked we have made the right decision to ensure journeys can still be made.”

Phil Bearpark, executive director for operations and projects, Virgin Trains, said “Network Rail’s decision is in the best interests of passengers who would have been left with no alternative services to and from London when work on the West Coast Main Line at Watford took place.

“We are working very hard with Network Rail and other train operators to put in place a timetable that makes best use of the space now available. This will mean that passengers are able to travel to and from London on direct services rather than taking diversionary services, which is really good news. But we are reacting to fast-moving events and I would ask that customers bear with us over the next few days as we clarify details of which trains will be available.”

Patrick Verwer, London Midland’s managing director, said: “Postponing the work at Watford is the right thing to do. Having two main lines from London to the midlands blocked could have caused severe disruption across the whole of the rail network as passengers and freight trains would have very few travel options available.”

Train planning issues

NR and train operators are now rapidly looking at what services can be reinstated as this will mean new rosters and maintenance plans for the trains. Special timetables for the two weekends will be published by individual operators as soon as possible. The temporary engineering work timetables would have been prepared over the last 12 months.

Beating the landslip

Chiltern Railways is operating services between Marylebone and Banbury, Leamington Spa to Birmingham Moor Street and Stratford Upon Avon. Rail replacement buses are running between Banbury and Leamington. These temporary arrangements have been reliable with over 90% of trains running on time each day despite the challenges Chiltern says.

The embankment is still moving and NR is determining the scale of the problem and how to solve the issue. From Monday 9th February Chiltern will be running enhanced services for West Midlands to London passengers - despite the closure.

There will be more fast ‘silver trains’ with Business Zone carriages running between Banbury and London and between Birmingham and Leamington Spa with a "step-straight-on" replacement bus service to Leamington Spa, from where trains will operate northwards. An extension of the replacement bus service will run direct from Warwick Parkway station to Banbury at peak times in addition to those from Leamington Spa.

There are extensive car parking facilities at Banbury and Warwick Parkway and Chiltern has introduced a "Banbury Fare Match', where passengers travelling from any of their West Midlands stations to London will only pay the Banbury fare to London with over 30,000 Advance tickets available every week between the West Midlands and London.

Chiltern Railways season tickets will also be valid for travel on Virgin Trains and First Great Western for the duration of the closure period.

Island Line Closed to March 20 due to landslip

A major ten-week engineering project to repair the storm-damaged rail network on the Isle of Wight began on Monday 12 January. The line is now closed between Ryde St Johns Road and Shanklin so permanent repairs can be made to stabilise the collapsed embankment at Sandown. A rail replacement bus service is in place between these two stations.

The line was last closed for this long between January and March 1967 when it was being electrified and so it was probably not a surprise when it was noted that the sewer pipes running under the railway were in a very fragile state.

It was decided that these should be replaced before the railway repairs commenced and once the sewers are in place, the embankment repairs can commence. This involves the installation of two high level steel retaining walls, one at the base of the bank and a second at the top of the bank.

To disperse the water behind these walls, weep holes and drainage facilities will be created The walls will help to protect the railway and new manholes offering easy access to the drainage system are being installed.

Island signalling system switched off until March 20.

Because Island Line is only operating one train on a shuttle basis from Ryde St. Johns to Ryde Pierhead, the line’s signalling system has been turned off.

Trains are running using a Token system to ensure safety and the driver has a physical token giving him authority to drive the train. The colour light signals have been hidden under hoods with a large white X across them denoting that the signal is out of use.

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