Drone images released today reveal the full size and scale of the most complex railway repair ever undertaken by Network Rail.
Ever since a 500,000-tonne landslip forced the closure of the iconic Settle-Carlisle line in February 2016 at Eden Brows near Armathwaite in Cumbria, Team Orange engineers have been working to repair and strengthen a 70 metre-high section of embankment which gave way.
The slip had threatened the future of Britain’s best-loved railway – until Network Rail confirmed its £23m repair programme.
In March 2017 the line was reopened to Northern trains after a vast concrete track base was secured into the steeply-sloping bedrock of the Eden gorge with the aid of 226 steel piles between 20 and 30 metres long.
This bespoke engineering solution ensures that if the ground gives way at this location in future, the railway will not.
Martin Frobisher, managing director of Network Rail’s London North Western route, said: “It’s not until you see the aerial shots that you appreciate the sheer scale of this repair. The landscape is as rugged as it is beautiful. The Victorians certainly did choose a wonderful spot to build a railway.”
The Settle-Carlisle line, opened in 1876, goes through some of the most beautiful scenery in Britain. It attracts tourists from around the world. It is also a key freight route and vital to the local communities it serves.
Paul Barnfield, regional director at Northern, said: “The work carried out by Network Rail and its contractors is nothing short of breath-taking.
“I was fortunate enough to be on the first passenger train to travel over the repaired section of line. That was a fantastic day for everyone involved in the project and, more importantly, for our customers. It is great to have rail services back on track for the communities on the Settle-Carlisle line.”
Mark Rand, of the Friends of Settle Carlisle Line, said: “Eden Brows suffered a massive landslip when the line was being built in the 1870s. History repeated itself in 2016. That work of this scale has been done in such fine style underlines the strategic importance, and tremendous potential, of this line.”
Work continues until March 2018 to pack vast boulders into the bank of the River Eden. Twenty-thousand tonnes of ‘rock armour’ will guard against erosion caused by swollen flows following heavy rain. This triggered the February 2016 slip.
Woodland cleared as part of the repair will be replanted with tree species approved by Natural England when the scheme concludes in March next year. Network Rail is has worked with Natural England and the Environment Agency throughout the work to ensure the area’s unique ecology is protected and enhanced.
Engineers have taken care to protect three badger setts on the embankment. Considerations have also been made for species including red squirrels, nesting birds, fish and otters after a holt was identified 500 metres downstream of the site. Fish inhabiting this stretch of the River Eden include salmon and lamprey.