Since September 2018 we have been carrying out a major project to improve reliability and performance for passengers on the Brighton Main Line.

We made great progress during the 9-day closure in February 2019 and over 15 weekends. The improvement works on the Brighton Main Line are a key part of a £300 million government-funded programme to tackle delay hotspots and boost the reliability of the railway in the south east, including the expanded Thameslink network. Without this programme of work, reliability on the Brighton Main Line would continue to deteriorate in the months and years ahead, leading to more delays for passengers.

We advised that the planned engineering work on 6 April 2019 would be postponed as Brighton Hove Albion FC made it to Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final. The postponed work on the Brighton Main Line took place on Sunday 6 October 2019 together with a maintenance closure on Sunday 24 November. We would like to thank you for your patience while this major programme of work took place.

The Railway Industry Innovation Awards 2019 logo

Highly Commended at the Railway Industry Innovation Awards

The Rail Innovation Awards are a long standing award in the Rail Industry. The work and innovation to undertake such a major engineering project during a 9-day blockade on the Brighton Main Line won Highly Commended at this prestigious awards event, held in June.

What we did?

The improvement project focussed on the southern end of the Brighton Main Line between Three Bridges and Brighton / Lewes. Major engineering work was planned for the Victorian-era tunnels at Balcombe, Clayton, Haywards Heath and Patcham and the railway which runs through them.

We stemmed leaks into the tunnels and improved drainage, while the third rail power supply and signalling were replaced or upgraded.

Elsewhere on the closed section, we replaced the track and sets of points, which enable trains to switch between tracks.

We had never attempted a closure of this magnitude before, it required a step change in approach from that of managing a traditional engineering closure to one of delivering a complex service delivery strategy, focused on putting passengers first. More than 36,000 hours of work was carried out – the equivalent of 79 separate weekend closures.

Throughout the time we ran a comprehensive communications campaign, run 10 separate rail replacement routes, engaging with and informing passengers of the need for the work, how they would be affected and the travel choices available to them.

The story of our work during the 9-day closure period and weekends

Highlights of the work completed during the 9-day line closures – Balcombe Tunnel Junction renewal

The time-lapse below shows work at Balcombe Tunnel Junction which was renewed and upgraded as part of the 9-day closure, replacing 600 metres of track, improving the layout of the junction and replacing switches and crossings.

  • Extensive drainage works in Balcombe Tunnel: The Victorian brick culvert drainage system in one of the South East’s longest railway tunnels had a build-up of silt and other debris, along with damage to brickwork. This compromised the drainage system and led to flooding, which in turn caused signalling and power supply problems.
  • Balcombe Tunnel Junction: Renewed and upgraded this junction, replacing 600 metres of track, improving the layout of the junction and replacing switches and crossings, which allow trains to easily move tracks.
  • A complete renewal and upgrade of the lineside signalling and power systems between Haywards Heath and Preston Park, with more reliable, modern high-tech equipment.
  • Extensive work at stations, including platform improvements, cleaning, repainting waiting rooms, ticket offices and station buildings, repairing and replacing footbridges, and repairing fencing as well as tidying up plants and hedgerows.

And just some of the weekend work:

  • Balcombe Station to Copyhold Junction – 2.3 miles of conductor ‘third’ rail renewed. Over 1,000 yards of ballast cleaned. A number of minor track faults repaired reducing the likelihood of temporary speed restrictions.
  • Balcombe Tunnel Junction – preparatory work, including constructing new switch panels and signal bases, in readiness for work during the 9-day closure.
  • Balcombe Tunnel and Haywards Heath – High Output ballast cleaning. Ballast is the aggregate stone, gravel forming the track bed on which sleepers and track are laid to ensure stability and proper drainage.
  • Clayton Tunnel – work for the track renewals completed consisting of securing 1,400 yards of cable and clearing 1,000 yards of scrap rail; 650 yards of track renewal completed.
  • Cooksbridge – re-railing completed.
  • Haywards Heath Station – four signal heads were converted to LED, re-railing in Haywards Heath Tunnel.
  • Haywards Heath to Wivelsfield – preparation for drainage works.
  • Keymer Junction area – re-railing through Keymer level crossing and removal of numerous rail defects.
  • Patcham to Preston Park – signalling installation.
  • Preston Park Station – improved track formation on platform 2.
  • Streat Green (Plumpton Racecourse) – underbridge renewed.
  • Three Bridges – signal heads changed and track circuits replaced.
  • Three Bridges to Balcombe Tunnel Junction – signal head changed.
  • Wivelsfield Station – cleaning of the station.