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.”