West Coast main line reopens after two weeks as work in Kilsby tunnel is completed

One complete track has been removed from inside Kilsby tunnel and the track bed has also been removed.

The West Coast main line has reopened between Milton Keynes and Rugby after a two-week blockade.

The line was closed to allow Network Rail and its contractors to work in Kilsby tunnel, near Daventry, which normally has 400 passenger and freight trains a day passing through it.

The closure is thought to have been the longest time that the 1.5-mile-long tunnel has been shut since it first opened in 1837.

Water had been leaking through the walls of the 183-year-old tunnel, causing the track to flood and degrade. Because of this, speed restrictions had been imposed, delaying tens of thousands of passengers travelling between Euston and the Midlands every day

The blockade and works were organised at short notice as Network Rail took advantage of the COVID-19 lockdown to close the railway when hardly any passengers were using it.

James Dean, Network Rail.

Network Rail’s James Dean, route director for the West Coast main line South, said: “Bringing Kilsby tunnel up to modern standards will make a huge difference for passenger and freight trains on the economically important West Coast main line.

“In normal times it would have been impossible to close this entire section of railway for an upgrade of this scope and scale. I’d like to pay a huge credit to our train operators and industry colleagues for enabling us to carry out this work at short notice and get the railway in the best possible shape as the country recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.”

The work to waterproof the tunnels and improve track drainage saw:

  • 1.3km of track replaced
  • 2,458 new concrete sleepers laid
  • 7,700 tonnes of railway foundation stone (ballast) laid
  • 745 metres of new drainage created
  • A total of 23,870 hours worked on the project

Now the waterproofing and track drainage improvement work is complete, trains will be able to run through the tunnel at full line speed of 110 mph once again, saving Avanti West Coast services a total of 82 minutes in delays every day.

And there’s more…

Network Rail took advantage of this stretch of Europe’s busiest mixed-traffic railway being closed for an unprecedented two weeks to carry out 250 other jobs that were on the waiting list.

These included:

  • Replacing and maintaining signalling cabling and equipment;
  • Maintaining the 25kV overhead lines which power trains;
  • Replacing and welding rail;
  • Installing new railway sleepers;
  • Improving trackside drainage;
  • Inspecting railway structures;
  • Managing overgrown lineside trees and plants.
Gus Dunster, Avanti West Coast.

Gus Dunster, executive director of operations at Avanti West Coast, said: “We are pleased to have played an important role in giving Network Rail access to the railway between Rugby and Milton Keynes – a notoriously difficult section to maintain due to the number of trains that use it every day.

“This scale of work would usually take months of careful planning, but, working together with industry colleagues, we were able to do this in a matter of days because of our reduced timetable and alliance with Network Rail. At the same time, we were able to protect our vital services for key workers, those making essential journeys and enable works to this treasured landmark to take place.

“It’s a great achievement in unprecedented circumstances and we would like to thank all of those involved for making this happen, and for the patience of everyone who has travelled with us over the last two weeks.

“The works will deliver a long-term benefit – improving reliability for millions of customers across the West Coast Main Line when we look forward to welcoming them back in the future.”

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