Infrastructure insights: track

Track installations were among the hundreds of projects we completed during the festive period.

We carried out £148m of upgrades over Christmas and the New Year, including track renewals at sites including Heathrow Airport, Holloway and Battersea Pier Junction. The improvements will improve reliability for passengers.

Without track, there would be no trains

The number of people travelling on the network has doubled in the last 20 years so track improvements are a crucial part of the Railway Upgrade Plan.

Year-round, we work night and day maintaining and renewing our 20,000 miles of track to keep Britain moving. Meanwhile, upgrades to this infrastructure create greater capacity for train services.

At Battersea Pier junction at Christmas, we crane-lifted 81 track panels into place. The points were so wide we brought them in on tilting railway wagons to stop them hitting bridges…

What does railway track consist of?

We mean the whole structure trains run on, including:

  • Rails - the lengths of steel that are welded together.
  • Sleepers - the supports for the rails.
  • Switches and crossings - the movable sections of track that guide trains from one track to another and allow them to cross paths. They have an especially limited lifespan because trains cause wear and deformation when they travel across them.
  • Sets of points - the mechanical systems that move the switches and crossings

How we maintain tracks

Our daily maintenance processes include:

  • Using tamper and ballast regulators to redistribute ballast – the stones beneath the track that give support – and compact it beneath the sleeper so that it maintains the track geometry.
  • Carrying out profile treatment to grind away part of the rail head – the top surface of the rail that the train’s wheels run on – to leave a clean surface for a smoother ride.
  • Monitoring our infrastructure by fitting measurement equipment to trains to identify flaws in the rail that need to be fixed.
Our tamping trains

Planned works and innovation

When a track is ‘life-expired’ and maintenance is too expensive or ineffective, we come up with solutions to refurbish or renew the track.

Switches and crossings installation at Felixstowe

These major projects are part of our Railway Upgrade Plan, and we carry them out at weekends or over bank holidays to minimise disruption.

On the Felixstowe branch line, we renewed switches and crossings amid a £60.4m project to install a 1.4km loop near Trimley to increase freight traffic and improve reliability.

Seasonal maintenance

We carry out seasonal maintenance to prepare our tracks for specific weather-related issues that can cause delays to passengers.

For example, we paint certain parts of the rails white in summer to prevent them expanding and causing the rail to buckle, and attach heaters to points in winter to prevent ice forming. We also make sure our cold-weather vehicles and machines are in position at depots across Britain, fitted with special equipment to quickly de-ice tracks.

Working overnight

Our High Output Track Renewal System (TRS) and Ballast Cleaning System (BCS) allow us to replace track and clean ballast quickly overnight while trains continue to run safely on adjacent lines. Working overnight is essential because the railway can’t sustain the amount of weekend access we’d need to deliver such a volume of renewals.

Here's our High Output ballast cleaner at work...