Passengers are advised to check before travelling by train over the Christmas and New Year period as Network Rail carries out a major programme of improvements to the south east’s rail network.

From Saturday, 22 December until the early hours of Wednesday, 2 January, more than 1,600 engineers will work round-the-clock on a host of projects to provide a better, more reliable railway for the hundreds of thousands of people who use the region’s railway each day. The work includes renewing outdated track and signalling, upgrading signalling systems, refurbishing and replacing footbridges and installing new drainage to prevent flooding during severe weather.

In south east London, work to upgrade the signalling systems in the Hither Green and Charlton areas continues over the festive period. Passengers will feel the benefit starting in Easter 2019, when control of the first section of railway is handed over to our modern rail operating centre at Three Bridges.

In Kent, engineers will be refurbishing a busy junction at Otford, where the lines to Sevenoaks and Maidstone meet, on Sunday 23 December. This is one of the busiest junctions in the area and our work will improve reliability for passengers across Kent. On the same day, engineers will remove the outdated footbridge over the railway at Brickfields near Swanley, with a new bridge deck to be installed in March 2019.

Another busy junction is being renewed at Canterbury West over Christmas Day and Boxing Day, with five pre-fabricated track panels carefully lifted into place by a road crane from the adjacent car park. The panels were constructed by a specialist contractor in Yorkshire and are being delivered to site next week ready for installation.

And on New Year’s Day, engineers will be working through the length of Wheeler Street tunnel in Maidstone on a major project to replace the ballast – the stones which support the tracks and sleepers – to provide a better, more reliable service for passengers.

The tunnel has major issues with drainage, with silt and heavy clay forming in the track bed, causing problems with the track, power system and signalling. Teams will dismantle and remove the rail, conductor rail and sleepers, then use an excavator to remove spoilt ballast. New ballast will then be installed and the track, conductor rail and sleepers reinstalled. All in one day.

John Halsall, Network Rail’s South East route managing director, said: “This Christmas we’re continuing with major parts of our Railway Upgrade Plan in the south east, aimed at providing a better, more reliable railway to the growing number of people who travel by rail.

“These projects are critical pieces of the jigsaw to help us provide the railway passengers deserve, reducing delays and boosting reliability.

“Of course, we know it’s never a good time to close the railway but doing nothing is not an option either. Doing the work over the Christmas holidays, when the railway is significantly quieter than usual, means we can minimise overall disruption to passengers.”

Ellie Burrows, Southeastern’s train services director, said: “As part of our engineering and upgrade works over the festive period there will be a number of alterations to our services. I would like to thank our passengers for their understanding and patience during this time and encourage people to plan ahead and check before they travel by following us on Twitter @SE_railway, checking our On Track app or the Southeastern website for the latest information.”

A breakdown of how journeys will be affected by improvement work across Britain over the Christmas and New Year period can be found by visiting nationalrail.co.uk/christmas.

For more information, please visit southeasternrailway.com or tfl.gov.uk.