Chiltern line reopens following Harbury landslip

Well done to Network Rail for reopening the London-Birmingham route through Harbury Cutting following a landslip in late January. It disrupted over 130 daily Chiltern, CrossCountry and freight services as 350,000 tonnes of spoil threatened to engulf the railway.

Over the intervening days, NR has removed around 400,000 tonnes of spoil to create more stable banks. This is not the first time such work has been done since the line opened in 1852. Perhaps the main difference is that when the cutting was first excavated, it was done chiefly by human muscle, today NR used a fleet of diggers and dumpers to lift and remove the offending spoil.

The work has changed the slope of the cutting side from up to 35 degrees to 17 degrees at its shallowest. This, combined with flat berms created within the slope, should do much provide a more stable structure and prevent future slips.

Network Rail has also improved drainage with a crest drain installed at the top of the slope to better control water flow, once again bringing extra stability.

This timelapse footage shows the fleet from contractor Murphy hard at work day and night to remove material and provide a more stable slope. NETWORK RAIL.

N Briggs courtesy Warwick Museum via Harbury gwrhc94

Contrast NR’s footage with this photograph from 1884 when the Great Western Railway was widening the cutting as it attempted to increase ground stability. This view also serves to show the difference between the permanent way tracks in the foreground and the temporary track on which the locomotive and its rake of spoil wagons are standing. N BRIGGS COURTESY WARWICK MUSEUM VIA WARWICKSHIRERAILWAYS.COM

 Network Rail Harbury Cutting BD0Q1491v1This view shows Harbury Cutting on both side of the short tunnel on February 1 2015. NETWORK RAIL.

Class 319s come to Northern England

Let’s welcome Northern’s newest electric train fleet to service. And welcome its oldest fleet into use.

For they are the same. Northern’s Class 319s entered passenger traffic with that operator on March 5 2015 but they were built in 1990, making them older than the operator’s other electric trains – the ‘321/9s’ of 1991, the ‘323s’ of 1992-96 and the youthful ‘333s’ built over 2001-03.

Perhaps that’s to pick hairs. The ‘319s’ are now working between Liverpool Lime Street and Manchester Airport via the newly electrified Chat Moss route.

Northern 319 Liverpool 050315

Northern 319362 waits in Platform 1 at Liverpool Lime Street on March 5 2015. This was the day ‘319s’ entered service between Liverpool and Manchester Airport. PHILIP HAIGH.

For the time being they are working to timings set for Sprinter diesel trains but that may change in the future. My journey on March 5 suggested the ‘319s’ are quicker off the mark than the diesels but owner Porterbrook lists the acceleration of ‘319s’ as “unknown” making comparisons difficult.

If the ‘319s’ can stretch their legs, their 100mph maximum speed is above the 90mph limit that applies for a good part of the Chat Moss route. By contrast, the ‘150’ and ‘156’ Sprinters are 75mph.

Northern Managing Director Alex Hynes told me that he was not sure whether quicker journeys would follow but said ‘319’ timings would be used when they had more information with which to calculate them.

According to the Northern Electrification Task Force, the new trains provide no increase in capacity when replacing a four-car diesel formation in the peak and add costs to off-peak services that do not need four cars.

The task force adds more generally of prospective northern electric services: “The units so far identified have very poor acceleration and so there will be few benefits from faster journeys due to the frequent stops which characterise the local services in the north and the significant gradients on some routes – these trains have worked predominantly outer suburban routes in flat country.”

Of the ‘319s’ themselves, they still have that deep whine on starting. Their external doors rattle and bang. Internally, their refurbishment looks good with recovered seats and new floor coverings. They’ve kept the 3+2 seating layout. They are a step forward. Let’s hope Northern makes the most of them, not least by transferring redundant diesel units to other routes than need extra capacity.