Network Rail has completed the laying of 11 miles of new track on the Dartmoor line, between Okehampton and Coleford junction, in just four weeks as part of its plans to reopen the railway between Okehampton and Exeter.
The government confirmed funding to upgrade the 14-mile-long railway in March 2021, and already the 11 miles of new track, including 24,000 concrete sleepers, have been installed using an NTC (new track construction) machine, which is able to drop sleepers into position, lay the track on top and then clamp the track into place, all in one operation.
The concrete sleepers, which were stored at the work site adjacent to Okehampton station, have been transported along the Dartmoor line using a Class 56 locomotive that has pushed a quarter-mile-long train of wagons, containing on average 2,430 sleepers per journey, at a speed of 5mph.
The 29,000 tonnes of ballast have also nearly all been installed and, once this is complete, the track will be tamped to compact the ballast and make sure the new track is level, ready for trains to start running.
To enable engineers, who have also been working on drainage and fencing, to work throughout the night, over four miles of lights have also been erected. These lights have been powered by silent generators to ensure residents living near to the Dartmoor Line are disrupted as little as possible.
Now that the main elements of the track relaying work have been completed, Network Rail will be turning its focus to other aspects of the project including upgrading several level crossings, installing new GSM-R masts (the railway’s mobile communications system), undertaking bridge repairs as well as running engineering test trains to check the quality of the newly laid track.
Becky Tipper, Network Rail scheme project manager, said: “We are delighted with the progress the team has made and this is credit to the hard work and dedication of our engineers involved in this project.
“It has also been really comforting to see such interest and support from the local community.
“We are committed to reopening this important railway line as quickly and safely as possible and look forward to the resumption of regular passenger services in the not-too-distant future.”
Matt Barnes, GWR regional development manager, commented: “Once reopened, the Dartmoor line will form a vital rail link for Okehampton and the surrounding areas, so we are pleased to see the progress Network Rail are making to upgrade the infrastructure.
“With daily trains running every two hours by the end of the year, and hourly services expected to be start in 2022, the new line will help extend the social and economic benefits of the railway to the area and the communities it will serve.
“Once Network Rail has completed their work, we will commence our crew training programme to help ensure a swift return to passenger services on the line.”