The closure of one of Britain’s busiest rail lines has been brought to an end after more than 250 engineers working across 26 sites have completed the biggest upgrade of a section of railway for more than 30 years.
Engineers on the southern end of the Brighton Main Line, between Brighton and Three Bridges, have been working around the clock for the last nine days to upgrade track junctions, drainage and signalling systems.
Extensive work has been undertaken in four Victorian tunnels to stop leaks and drainage issues which can cause major delays with work hoping to “improve reliability” on one of the busiest stretches of railway that carries up to 300,000 passengers on a normal weekday.
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 has also been completed in the nine days that the line has been closed to trains.
Network Rail has attempted to underline how vital the upgrades were by highlighting that the section of railway was responsible for more delays to Southern, Gatwick Express and Thameslink passengers than any other.
John Halsall, Network Rail South East’s managing director, has thanked passengers for their patience in one of the biggest projects the organisation has undertaken. The Network Rail boss says the only alternative would have been for “drawn-out disruption” across 84 weekends.
“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,” he added. “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.”
To cope with the disturbance, Network Rail put on 250 buses for passengers in the biggest bus replacement operation in the country.
The rail operator say 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.
Commenting on the work, Keith Jipps, GTR’s infrastructure director, said: "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. 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.”
Despite completion, the organisation has warned passengers of four planned weekend closures between Three Bridges and Brighton in March and April.