The River Leith runs alongside the West Coast main line near Thrimby, eight miles south of Penrith in Cumbria.
Because the river was straightened, it puts the railway it borders at risk from erosion. It also doesn’t provide good conditions for wildlife to thrive or help protect the surrounding land or buildings from flooding.
As a result, Network Rail is working with the Eden Rivers Trust, Environment Agency, Natural England and landowners to return the River Leith back to its natural course and improve the safety of the West Coast main line, Europe’s busiest mixed-use passenger and freight railway.
Last year, £550,000 was invested in rebuilding the embankment where the river flows under the line. Now, just north of that embankment, work has begun to cut a new 1km meandering river channel that flows away from the railway line. The new river will be 33% longer than the previously straightened river.
Lev Dahl, river restoration manager from Eden Rivers Trust, said: “This is a really exciting project that is going to provide a huge range of benefits – increasing habitat, protecting the railway and reducing flood risk.
“As the project matures, it will also provide homes for a range of birds and mammal species.
“All of these benefits are set within a working sheep and beef farm and provides a great example of how food production, nature conservation and the transport sector can work hand in hand.”