Split image of work inside the Kilsby tunnel, with machinery on left and track on right

Improvement work completed between Rugby and Milton Keynes, Sunday 3 – Saturday 16 May 2020

James Dean, managing director of West Coast Mainline South route

James Dean, managing director of West Coast Mainline South route

We all know the coronavirus pandemic has created some challenging and testing times for the entire country.

Sectors of our society – health and social care, emergency services, delivery networks, to name a few – are under unparalleled levels of pressure. Although passenger demand has eased for the transport sector, as the public is urged to stay at home, we’re still working hard behind the scenes to keep passengers who do need to travel, and millions of tonnes of freight, moving.

One outcome of COVID-19 for the rail industry is far fewer passengers in our stations and on trains. While we’d rather everyone was travelling as normal, a quieter railway presents an opportunity for our engineering teams, who have much more flexibility to carry out essential work to keep the railway running safely and reliably for years to come.

We have successfully delivered 250 essential maintenance jobs between Sunday 3 May and Saturday 16 May 2020 between Milton Keynes and Rugby on the West Coast main line, including a major drainage project.

What was achieved?

Major track and drainage improvements were undertaken through the Victorian-built Kilsby Tunnel near Daventry.

Because of the its age, water leaks through the 183-year-old tunnel’s walls had caused the track to flood and degrade.

Speed restrictions needed to be imposed for the 400 trains which passed through it an average day, causing delays to tens of thousands of passengers travelling between Euston and the Midlands.

Now waterproofing and track drainage improvement work is complete, trains will once again be able to run through the tunnel at full line speed of 110mph. The two-week project is thought to be the longest full closure of the tunnel since it opened in 1837.

Track machinery outside Kilsby tunnel

Kilsby improvements – stats and facts:

  • 24,000 hours of work. 150 people working each day1390m track renewed.
  • 1,528 continuous welded rail.
  • 2,548 new concrete sleepers.
  • 8,000 tonnes railway stone (ballast).
  • 745m drainage renewed.
  • 19 engineering trains.
  • Planned and delivered in less than two weeks.

Aside from the work through Kilsby tunnel, Network rail also completed 250 other jobs on the closed section of railway between Rugby and Milton Keynes.

 These included:

  • Replacing and maintaining signalling cabling and equipment.
  • 3450m cable renewals.
  • Inspection of nine miles of overhead lines which power trains, including nine wire runs.
  • Replacing and welding rail.
  • Renewals of six track switches and crossings (allowing trains to move between lines).
  • Installing new railway sleepers.
  • Improving 260m trackside drainage.
  • Inspecting 170 railway structures.
  • Managing 17000 square metres of overgrown lineside trees and plants.
  • Stabilised previous landslip site at Dodford using 820 tonnes stone.
Aerial shot of track works on the west coast Main Line
Credit – Network Rail Air Operations

Why was the work needed?

Following heavy rainfall late in 2019 and earlier this year, our teams identified drainage issues through Kilsby Tunnel, a 1.4-mile long tunnel located about 5 miles southeast of Rugby station, which was built in 1838.

Standing water on the track through the tunnel and the consequent poor track quality means that we had to put speed restrictions in place, so that trains could pass through the area safely while we developed a plan of action to renew the track through the busy tunnel.

The speed restrictions cause knock-on delays to services travelling through the tunnel. New and improved drainage systems and track through the tunnel will resolve this issue. Overall, this major engineering programme will result in more reliable journeys for passengers using the West Coast main line – Europe’s busiest mixed-use passenger and freight railway line

Four engineers on site at the west coast main line upgrades.

Thank you

You can see plenty of images and videos from the work by visiting @NetworkRailEUS on Twitter.

I want to thank all our colleagues, passengers and lineside neighbours for their patience while this essential and beneficial work took place.

Update: This post was originally published on 01 May 2020. It has been updated to reflect the work being completed.