Sussex passengers are seeing the benefits today as Network Rail handed the railway back on time following a 9-day closure for vital engineering work that will make their train service more reliable.
More than 250 engineers worked around the clock at 26 sites to complete the biggest upgrade of the railway between Brighton and Three Bridges in more than 30 years. Over the extended closure, they have carried out the lion’s share of the £67 million improvement programme to this stretch of railway.
They have improved track, signalling and drainage on the route, which is one of the busiest on the network, carrying 300,000 passengers on a normal weekday, but has also been one of the least reliable on the network.
Thousands of Southern and Thameslink passengers who rely on the Brighton Main Line each day returned this morning to brighter and cleaner stations as Network Rail and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) took advantage of the closure to carry out a series of improvements at Balcombe, Haywards Heath, Wivelsfield, Hassocks, Preston Park, Plumpton and Cooksbridge stations, with more to come over the next few weeks. We work closely with our local communities and know these station improvements will be welcome.
John Halsall, Network Rail South East’s managing director, said: “I’d like to say thank you to the passengers who have been disrupted by this crucial work, which is one of the biggest projects we’ve ever undertaken.
“I know it’s been difficult for them and I am really grateful that so many changed their plans for the week to enable us to concentrate the work in this way. The alternative would have been 84 separate weekend closures, so this has been much more effective for them as well as for us.
“It will be worth it in the long run as we’ve been able to complete major work to the ageing infrastructure which has caused so many delays in the past, as well as repairs in the Victorian-era tunnels which were prone to flooding.
“All of this means we can provide a more reliable service that passengers deserve and can depend on.”
More than three quarters of passengers made alternative travel arrangements, worked from home or took annual leave during the school half-term, thanks to an extensive passenger awareness campaign, which was praised by independent watchdog Transport Focus.
Keith Jipps, GTR’s Infrastructure Director, said: “We’re pleased to welcome passengers back and I apologise for anyone that has been inconvenienced during these essential works and I am grateful for their patience throughout this challenging project.
“Working with our partners at Network Rail and our contractors and suppliers, together we have successfully overseen one of the biggest rail replacement services ever, with a temporary bus hub at Three Bridges, 240 buses being driven by 530 drivers and nearly 300 additional staff to help passengers and keep them moving.
“Members of staff across both organisations and our suppliers have been a great credit to the rail industry and the great feedback our passengers have given us recognises what a great job our people have done. The amount of work that has been carried out whilst the line was blocked has been massive and we will see the benefits by providing better punctuality and reliable services for our passengers.”
Highlights of the engineering work completed include:
- Extensive drainage works in Balcombe Tunnel: The Victorian brick culvert drainage system in one of the South East’s longest railway tunnels had a build-up of silt and other debris, along with damage to brickwork. This compromised the drainage system and led to flooding, which in turn caused signalling and power supply problems.
- Balcombe Tunnel Junction: Renewed and upgraded this junction, replacing 600 metres of track, improving the layout of the junction and replacing switches and crossings, which allow trains to move tracks.
- A complete renewal and upgrade of the lineside signalling and power systems between Haywards Heath and Preston Park, with more reliable, modern high-tech equipment.
- Extensive work at affected stations, including platform improvements, deep-cleaning, repainting waiting rooms, ticket offices and station buildings, repairing and replacing footbridges, and repairing fencing as well as tidying up plants and hedgerows.
Now engineers will turn their attention to planning for the final stages of the work, which will be carried out over five weekends between March and May this year.