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Maintenance and engineering work can be noisy – but we try hard to keep noise and disruption to a minimum
Maintenance is the general day-to-day upkeep of the railway such as looking after tracks, signals and power supplies, while we refer to larger scale projects, such as track replacement, as engineering work.
When we began to run the railway in October 2002, we faced a huge backlog of engineering work. We have been working since to replace and upgrade much of the infrastructure and have significantly improved the safety and reliability of the railway.
We use a range of measures to minimise noise and disruption including:
However some essential work, such as tamping (see right) is unavoidably noisy.
For large engineering projects, we also:
When we're planning engineering works near residential areas, we aim to send letters to local people 10 days before the work begins.
The letters explain what we plan to do and when we expect to start and finish the work. When a large engineering project is planned, we also tell local authorities and other community representatives such as members of parliament, local councillors. For maintenance work, which ranges from emergency repairs to general up-keep, it isn't possible for us to tell the people who live nearby before work starts. This is because maintenance takes place every day and night of the year which makes it impractical to give notice to all the people affected by every job.
We have to do most of our maintenance and engineering work on the tracks at nights and week-ends so that we can keep the trains running. In fact, we are required by law to undertake engineering work when the railway line is closed to rail traffic.
The railway is a 24-hour a day, 365 days a year operation and involves a very large network of over 20,000 miles of track, 40,000 bridges and tunnels and 9,000 level crossings. We have to work on the infrastructure throughout the year so that we can run a safe and reliable rail network for passengers.
Also, we have to plan and agree engineering projects with the passenger and freight train companies many months ahead. These works are usually part of a bigger and more complex programme of work, so if we change one part of the project, then it would affect all the other parts. Finally, there are enormous demands on our maintenance and engineering staff. The same teams work on different projects and their work needs to be planned properly. For example, it is not easy for a gang to suddenly change from doing night shifts to day shifts.
You can find out about trains affected by engineering work and service alterations on the National Rail Enquiries website. You can find more information about employee and contractor behaviour, noise and major projects on this website.
If you have a concern or question, call our 24-hour helpline:
08457 11 41 41
or contact us online
Track is made up of three parts: the metal rails, sleepers that sit under the rails, and ballast - the crushed rock that forms a bed for the tracks.
For track to function properly, sleepers must sit firmly in the ballast. When track has been heavily used or has been re-layed, we need to remove all the gaps in the ballast so that the sleepers do not move as trains pass allowing them to run smoothly, reducing noise and vibration.
To do this we use tamping machines. They are about the size of a normal engine and sit on the tracks vibrating the ballast with hydraulic 'fingers' to remove all the voids and gaps.
Unfortunately tamping machines are very noisy. Not only does the tamping process itself make noise, it also triggers track alarms used to warn workers of approaching trains. Sometimes, we need to use two or more tampers and other equipment at the same time.
Tamping machines travel about one mile on a job, which means that they can pass by the homes and business of thousands of people. Most tamping has to be done at night to avoid disrupting train services. Usually, this affects our neighbours for one or two nights.
We are not always able to notify people who will be affected by tamping machines as it's part of our regular maintenance work and takes place every day and night of the year, making it impractical to give notice to all the people who may be affected.