Published: 5th January 2015
Passengers travelling via Reading are likely to have noticed a lot of major works being carried out since 2008. Sunday January 4 marked the beginning of the end of the project when the new 2km long viaduct just west of Reading opened. The first public train to use it was the 8am Paddington to Penzance service which carried around 50 extra passengers travelling specially to be on the first train over the £45 million viaduct.
They then travelled back on the 0911hrs three car Class 166 train from Didcot. This meant that the enthusiasts had travelled on both lines on the viaduct but the return trip provided a better view because the fog had lifted in the intervening period which had limited the view on the outward run.
The rail industry had arranged helicopters and drones to film this first train but the fog had descended and failed to clear by the time the train left Reading at 0855hrs.
For the record, the first train to arrive at Paddington having used the viaduct was the 0745hrs Bristol to Paddington train, which also traversed it in the fog!
The massive £900 million Reading area project is scheduled to be completed in August and there will be two more major planned periods of disruptions associated with this. There will be major track works carried out over Easter and in August after which will bring more sections of new railway into use.
The viaduct carries trains to and from Bristol and South Wales over the line to and from the southwest and because all services will not be competing for track space, delays will be reduced. The new layout will also enable four extra passenger trains each hour to operate and more freight trains via a new line under the flyover. This is critical as this is the main route that serves Southampton Docks which generates lots of container traffic on the rails.
Network Rail says the new viaduct is the UK's longest concrete viaduct as opposed to the longest single span bridge just installed between Reading and Paddington near Heathrow Airport. The viaduct has the initial electrification masts installed but the electrification is a long way from being complete on it yet.
When the first massive beam was installed last year, Jim Weeden Network Rail’s acting programme director for the Reading Station and Area Redevelopment, said: Each beam weighs around 40 tonnes and at 23 metres long, lifting them on to the bases we have built was a challenge, especially as we were working next to a live railway.
The beams were installed by Balfour Beatty and made by Shay Murtagh in Ireland, then shipped to Liverpool docks before being transported to Reading by road.
Liam McGovern, contracts director for Shay Murtagh Precast, said: “Producing and moving over 320 beams and 170 large box culverts requires significant organisation and it has been a magnificent team effort.”
First Great Western Managing Director Mark Hopwood said: “The Reading Viaduct is a fantastic feat of engineering that unblocks a major bottleneck on the Great Western mainline. It will bring immediate results to our train service performance and deliver longer-term benefits for customers between now and the summer”.
Network Rail’s, managing director for the Western route, Patrick Hallgate said: “The completion of the viaduct is another significant step in our development of the Reading station area and will enable passengers to benefit from reduced journey times, an increase in services and ultimately
a better travelling experience.”
The completion of the viaduct will now enable Network Rail to complete the widening of Cow Lane, a well-known traffic bottleneck on Reading’s road network. This work could not be carried out until the viaduct was open so now road and rail users will benefit from the investment.
The Easter works will see the track West of Reading remodelled which will reduce delays to Newbury, Westbury and Basingstoke services. Then it’s the last bit of the jigsaw in August when the speed restrictions will be lifted on that section of the railway. At the moment, the viaduct has a temporary speed restriction of 50mph which will be 80mph from August. There is one crossover on the viaduct which is limited to 50mph.