A huge 11,000-tonne tunnel installation under the East Coast Main Line becomes a UK engineering first, as the on-site construction of the concrete tunnel marks a significant milestone for Network Rail.
Weighing more than the Eiffel Tower, the tunnel will be installed over a nine-day operation as part of the £1.2bn upgrade of the East Coast Main Line. Over the course of nine months, engineers have been building the new tunnel by the side of the East Coast Main Line, as trains go past between Edinburgh and London.
Designed to make rail transport in the United Kingdom more efficient and reliable, the infrastructure project will also improve the experience of passengers who rely on this vital mode of transportation. The East Coast Main Line is one of the most important rail routes in the country, connecting London with Scotland and serving a significant portion of the UK's population. The construction of the tunnel at Werrington, north of Peterborough, is a critical step towards ensuring that this line remains operational, even as demand for rail transport continues to grow.
The 155m concrete box will be slid under existing rail infrastructure, where a slow-moving east-west freight route crosses the East Coast Mainline. This innovative approach to the installation involves pushing the tunnel into position using massive jacks that will move it at a rate of 1.5m per hour along pre-installed guiding supports. This method of installation has many advantages over traditional tunnelling methods, as it avoids the need for lengthy track closures that can cause significant passenger disruption.
The primary purpose of the tunnel is to take slower freight trains off the fast route, improving reliability and speeding up services. By doing so, Network Rail can better serve the needs of passengers and ensure that rail transport remains a viable alternative to other modes of transportation. This is especially important in an era of growing concern about climate change, as rail transport is widely recognized as one of the most environmentally friendly modes of transportation available.
Paul Rutter, Route Director for Network Rail, commented: “This is a massive engineering challenge, but it will avoid hundreds of hours of closure on one of the most important lines in the country,”
“This is industry-leading work that really puts the needs of passengers first in how we approach improvement work. In the past, Network Rail might have approached this problem by thinking about the easiest way to do the engineering. Instead, I’m proud to say we have come up with a creative and innovative solution that will deliver massive benefits while keeping disruption to a minimum.”
While the line will remain open during the installation process, a limited number of services will run south of Grantham throughout the operation. Passengers who must travel are advised to plan, check for updates, and consider whether their journeys are necessary while the installation is underway. By working together and following these guidelines, passengers can help ensure that the tunnel installation is a success and that rail transport in the United Kingdom continues to improve and evolve.