Rail Engineer’s editor, David Shirres, gives his thoughts on some of the topics addressed in issue 160 – What? Sevenoaks Tunnel again?

In Scotland, the New Year greeting is offered well into January to those seen for the first time since the old year. As we go to press at the end of January, we would like to follow this tradition by wishing our readers a very happy new year.

2018 will be a particularly good year for many rail passengers as benefits are realised from projects started years ago. In Scotland, electrification will bring faster and longer trains between Edinburgh and Glasgow. In the North West, electrification is scheduled for completion and the Ordsall Chord will have a full service.

Completion of the Great Western electrification between Paddington and Didcot will bring significant passenger benefits whilst, further down the line, signalling enhancements will give Cornwall more trains.

London’s two megaprojects will use digital signalling and automatic train operation to deliver a huge increase in capacity. May will see the Thameslink core carrying 18 trains per hour whilst, in December, the opening of the Elizabeth line central tunnel will link Paddington with North Kent.

Completion of these projects, and around two thousand new rail vehicles, will bring significant benefits, with many delivered by the new May timetable. These new trains will enhance services in Scotland, in Northern England, on the East Coast and Great Western main lines and in London. ScotRail’s refurbished HST fleet will demonstrate that improved trains need not be new ones. This point, and the thousands of rail vehicles on order, did not feature in recent uninformed press reports on the age of UK trains.

These improvements arise from investments made after demand had increased. Hence, there is inevitably a lag in satisfying demand as it takes time to deliver extra rail capacity. With the resultant over-crowding and disruption from the required engineering work, passengers do not necessarily see that the industry is working for their long-term benefit.

Emotive headlines such as “Christmas of rail chaos to disrupt festive family time” above stories that rarely explain the benefits of such major work, or the blockades they require, highlight the need for a cross-industry PR offensive which could build on the service improvements being delivered this year.

This month, most of our magazine concerns the £160 million programme of work that Network Rail and its suppliers delivered over the festive season. This required over a thousand possessions with no significant overruns. As Clive Kessel reports, this included the last major work on the London Bridge and Thameslink projects to commission previously completed track work and provide ETCS infrastructure. He also describes the traffic management system that, with ETCS and ATO, will deliver a 24 trains per hour service in 2019.

24 trains per hour will also be provided by Crossrail’s digital signalling, as Paul Darlington describes. His feature also explains how Christmas saw Network Rail’s largest data signalling upgrade implemented at Paddington as part of the Crossrail work, which also laid the final connection between the national rail network and the Elizabeth lines.

In the Midlands, we report on Soho North junction’s remodelling and signalling work to provide greater capacity between Birmingham and Wolverhampton. At Redhill, passengers should appreciate their extra platform which, as we describe, was brought into service after a two-year programme of work culminating in the Christmas blockade.

Passengers are unlikely to notice the work done to ensure a resilient railway. We have two such examples. From Southampton, Bob Wright reports on the challenges of renewing 14 S&C sets at Northam junction, whilst Grahame Taylor reports (again) on what it takes to keep the Sevenoaks tunnel dry.

These are just a few of the nearly 3,000 sites at which over 32,000 people worked over Christmas on the main line network. Nigel Wordsworth’s ‘Yuletide activities’ feature describes many more.

Our Christmas coverage would not be complete without a feature on London Underground’s work over the festive period. As Mark Phillips reports, this included the renewal of crossovers at Earls Court and connecting the new Northern line tunnels with the old ones.

We regularly report on various initiatives with great potential. This month we consider bridges, tunnels and have a report from Singapore, where the IRSE recently held its biennial international ASPECT conference on worldwide signalling practice, including some promising innovations.

The “What the truck” campaign seems to be reducing the 1,600 bridge strikes each year, as Colin Carr explains. We also explain the complexities of analysing pressure waves in railway tunnels to avoid damage and safeguard delicate human orifices, lineside cabinets and maintenance trollies!

Aerodynamic effects will not be a problem if Rhondda tunnel reopens, as only walkers and cyclists would pass through it. Graeme Bickerdike’s report concludes that there do not seem to be any engineering showstoppers. Perhaps the Army could help? Whilst railways are no longer an essential part of military strategy, we describe how the British Army still has specialist rail expertise.

Although 2018 promises to be a good year for the industry and its customers, unfortunately this is not the case for those with Carillion, for whom Network Rail’s guarantee of pay until April offers a little respite. Our thoughts are with them.