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Video: Plans for £170m investment to make East Anglia rail line safer and more reliable set out - but brace yourself for disruption

PUBLISHED: 08:24 30 October 2014 | UPDATED: 08:24 30 October 2014

A Network Rail engineer at work Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

A Network Rail engineer at work Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Rail users are set to face major disruption next year as part of a £170m raft of works to make the East Anglian rail link between Norwich and London safer and more reliable.

Ballast cleaning

This work will be carried out on Saturdays and Sunday nights, and on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays from mid-to-late evening onwards to avoid the peak periods when most commuters will be travelling,

Where the work takes place from mid-to-late evenings on certain weeknights and very early mornings, there will be some extended journey times, and there will also be replacement bus services.

Work will take place in the following places:

January to April: Norwich to Haughley

April to May: Ipswich to Stowmarket

May to October: Colchester to Shenfield

November to December: Norwich to Stowmarket

Network Rail has set out its plans for work over the coming year - including a project to scoop rocks out of the track with a hi-tech machine - which will mean some trains will be replaced by buses or slowed down as they pass engineers.

Network Rail said the work, known as ballast cleaning, would provide a safe, well-drained bed for the track to sit on, and was absolutely vital to improving performance on the busy line.

The £42m machine scoops up the crushed rock, called ballast, before sieving out any small, broken pieces and replacing them with the same weight in fresh stone.

Network Rail said the machine could cover double the distance every night compared to conventional methods, and without it, the work would take 12 years instead of around two years, and would be much more disruptive.

Other rail work

Work on other projects will take place during eight weekends between the beginning of February and the end of March in addition to Easter and May bank holidays.

Key projects on the Great Eastern Main Line in 2015 also include:

Overhead line upgrade: Engineers continue to upgrade 60-year-old equipment to improve reliability along the Great Eastern Main Line. In 2015, work in the Chelmsford area will be completed.

Witham: Network Rail is installing new track and points at Witham. Points allow trains to move from one part of the track to another

Colchester: Engineers are returning to Colchester to complete the second part this project. NetworkRail is remodelling the track and installing new sets of points, to deliver a more reliable railway to passengers

Crossrail: Work continues to transform travel for commuters and longer-distance passengers between London, Essex and beyond. The additional passenger capacity and renewed stations will mean major, long-term improvements. Brand new trains will replace the existing trains used on stopping services from Shenfield to London from 2017.

Richard Schofield, Network Rail route managing director, said: “This essential upgrade is the railway’s equivalent of resurfacing a busy road. Running a safe, reliable railway depends on the track being in good condition – not just the metal rails, but the foundations on which they sit too.

“We’re using one of the most modern pieces of kit on the railway, meaning the majority of our work can be done while trains are running on the adjacent track. As the name suggests, the ‘high output’ machine is also much, much quicker than using traditional methods.”

Jamie Burles, Managing Director, Abellio Greater Anglia said: “We will be working closely with Network Rail throughout the period of the high output engineering programme. In scheduling the work overnight and at off-peak times to avoid the main periods of commuter travel, we will be doing everything possible to minimise alterations to the normal train service.

“The outcome of this programme and the other infrastructure investment that Network Rail is implementing next year will give us a better, more reliable railway.”

Upgrades of overhead lines, track and signalling are also planned as part of the £170m package of upgrades next year.

But Network Rail said there were currently no plans for any major disruptive engineering work on the Great Eastern Main Line between May and the end of the year, which would require a bus replacement service during weekends on both Saturday and Sunday.

The ballast cleaning will continue on the Great Eastern Main Line in 2016, but is also planned to work on Saturday nights on the Ely to Peterborough line through the spring and summer. In late 2016 and into 2017, Network Rail will start installing new track on the Great Eastern Main Line as it continues to upgrade the railway.

MP Chloe Smith said: “One of the things that plagues passengers the most on our line is the lack of reliability. Ways of improving reliability are welcome, but in doing so, Network Rail must make sure they are delivering the highest standards so passengers are not put out while the works are done.”

Mark Pendlington, chairman of New Anglia LEP and co-chair of the Great Eastern Main Line Taskforce said: “We welcome these improvements to the safety, reliability and resilience of the rail line. But keeping passengers moving and free from as much disruption and inconvenience as possible is equally important. That’s the big challenge for Network Rail and Abellio Greater Anglia. Meanwhile, our main focus is on the transformation of the Great Eastern Main Line with an injection of much needed investment for improved infrastructure and new rolling stock, the case for which we will be making to Government in the coming days.”

• Full information of revisions and alterations to train times, and advise on alternative travel arrangements will be available at stations and published on the Abellio Greater Anglia and National Rail website in advance of each stage of the work.

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