Major improvements to the West Coast main line between Warrington and Preston were successfully completed on Monday morning after nine consecutive days of engineering. Four junctions - Golborne, Bamfurlong, Wigan Springs Branch and Balshaw Lane - were replaced and three miles of track re-laid to help increase line speeds and make journeys more reliable.
During one of the hottest weeks of the year, a team of 720 men and women were on site 24 hours a day to deliver this significant investment. Over 900 barrels of water were consumed and 3,000 bottles of sun cream used as track temperatures rose as high as 46C.
Train services resumed on Monday morning and were running at a speed of 80mph across one of the new junctions. This is the first time Network Rail has been able to reopen lines at this speed following major engineering work.
Martin Frobisher, area director for Network Rail, said: “I was in the cab of the first test train over the line this morning and I’m pleased that under some tough weather conditions we’ve been able to deliver on time, this vital improvement which will make journeys on the west coast main line more reliable and punctual. I would like to thank passengers for their support and cooperation during the closure, as well as our industry partners who we worked very closely with to prepare for and deliver this critical project.”
Usually, Network Rail would have carried out work of this kind over a number of bank holiday weekends requiring train services to be replaced repeatedly by alternative transport. By carrying out the work in a nine-day continuous spell this summer, engineers were able to complete the replacement of four junctions around 16 months earlier to avoid disrupting rail travel plans for many weekends and nine bank holidays over the next two years.
Why did we do it?
The blockade was part of a major process along the length of the WCML to improve reliability and cut the amount of the time the railway needs to close. The layout of the junctions between Warrington and Preston was such that tamping them required a weekend closure every year. This is because the points were set “toe-to-toe”, requiring special tamping. By stretching Network Rail has also removed switch diamonds, which are difficult to maintain. They are also, appropriately enough, vulnerable to high temperatures and need constant monitoring in key locations in hot weather.
Speeds over the junctions were also increased to match line speeds on diverging routes. For example, diverging trains at Golborne Junction used to approach at 90mph, slow to 50mph, before accelerating to 75mph once across the junction. Now they travel across the junction at 75. There was an even greater jump at Balshaw Lane, where trains approached at 110 (125 EPS) and slowed to 50, before accelerating to 75 on the down slow.
Phil Bearpark, Production Director for Virgin Trains said: “I congratulate the engineering team at Network Rail for completing this very challenging piece of work on time. A key section of the West Coast Main Line will now immediately provide better reliability for our customers and in the longer term is another stepping stone in our quest for faster journey times for Anglo Scottish services”