Five feats of engineering – Network Rail

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Five times we took engineering to the next level

We face lots of challenges in keeping the railway running safely and reliably for you and freight operators. Here are five times we used some of the best technology, ingenuity and innovative engineering in Britain to keep you moving.

Five feats of railway engineering

Heavy lifting

We completed a huge railway junction repair in record time on the Chiltern Main Line. We achieved this after we found a major fault on this of section track, in November 2020.

The fault had the potential to cause major disruption as the junction connects the Chiltern Main Line with a branch line between Banbury and Oxford. Both lines are heavily used by passenger and freight services.

We fixed the fault in less than 12 hours thanks to some ingenuity and collaboration with the wider rail industry. Our teams used two of the largest rail cranes in Europe, the Kirow crane, to lift a six-and-a-half-tonne section of replacement track into place. This has been dubbed our ‘formula one pit-stop repair’ because of the incredibly speed it took to complete. You can expect more reliable journeys on the Chiltern Main Line thanks to this innovative junction repair.

Phenomenal freight

We ran the heaviest freight train ever to travel on the West Coast Main Line from the Peak District to London, in March 2021. The ‘jumbo service’ hauled 3,600 tonnes of essential construction materials 203 miles.

Jumbo freight service on West Coast Main Line

The 39-wagon freight train measured a total length of 590 metres and split into two upon its arrival into London.

Our ‘jumbo service’ experiment demonstrated how longer freight services can benefit the environment by taking lorries off the road and reducing congestion.

Down in one!

Our teams successfully installed nearly half a kilometre of track in one go between Birmingham New Street and Coleshill Park Way, in February 2022.

We connected six specialist railway ‘track removal machines’ together to complete the lift and installation. Our engineers used new four-dimensional modelling to simulate the installation in advance to improve efficiency.

We delivered an extensive package of improvements works in just under nine days so that your journeys in and out of Birmingham New Street will be greatly improved.

Changing tides

We started work on the second section of the new, bigger sea wall at Dawlish, Devon in November 2020. Our bigger wall needed bigger equipment to deliver it.

We used an innovative eight-legged, self-contained walker jack-up-barge, known as a ‘Wavewalker’ to help with construction. This barge is the only one of its kind in Europe and had never been used on a railway in Britain before Dawlish.

Our teams were able to safely access the sea face of the railway embankment to complete foundation because of the Wavewalker; this incredible machine benefits from being able to operate across the high tidal range. Your journeys will be better protected once section two of the new sea wall is complete.

Rising to the challenge

We rose to the challenge and lifted the 80-tonne Black Bridge out of a flood zone in North Wales, June 2021.

We closed the bridge 30 times in the last decade due to flooding. A total of 360 engineers clocked up more than 32,000 working hours to lift the bridge in just six weeks; they opted to lift the bridge manually, rather than use hydraulics to prevent any twists or inaccuracies.

We used eight 20-tonne chains blocks to raise the bridge; for every 10 meters of chain pulled, the bridge was raised just 10mm. Our engineers pulled 12,800 metres of chain by hand to raise the bridge a whole metre. Your journeys in North Wales will be more reliable as this bridge is now better protected from heavy rain and rising river levels.

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