‘A washing line’ of electric wires goes up in final phase of rail route’s improvement
PUBLISHED: 13:00 25 November 2016
The “north circular” of the capital’s railway network has entered the final stage of £133m improvement works.
Network Rail engineers started raising the electric wires, which will power trains running along the 14 mile Gospel Oak to Barking line, in Barking on Saturday.
This is the first wire run for the entire line, closed to commuters between Barking and South Tottenham since early June and on the entire line from late September.
On a cold, rainy weekend, rail workers could be seen at the station raising the wires and attaching them to overhead steel masts, in what appeared to be “a washing line”.
Once in situ the wires will see 25 kilovolts worth of electricity coursing through them to power new, four car electric trains. This is 100 times the voltage of an average home.
The work comes after the government backed improvement plans for the route in 2013.
But the new trains will not be replaced straight away because they are still being built by manufacturer Bombardier for TfL.
As a result the old, two car diesel trains will have to be used on the line after the work is scheduled to end in February.
Network Rail expects the line to become fully operational with electric trains in early 2018.
Since 2008 passenger numbers have doubled across the route resulting in packed trains.
Speaking to the Recorder lead engineer Neil Hamilton said: “The project is about sixty to seventy per cent civil engineering. All the complicated stuff is done now. One hundred per cent the route will open to electric trains in early 2018.”
As part of the work track had to be lowered to allow sufficient clearance for the overhead wires to run along a route built by the Victorians and opened in 1864. The new cables should last for around sixty years.
The Gospel Oak to Barking line is the last in London overground line to be electrified and according to Neil there will be fewer works on the route once the current work has been completed.
In an average day ten different teams work on the route and more than a million man hours have so far been devoted to the project.
Neil said: “We’ve carried out major civil engineering work to get the wires up. Now we’re getting towards the end people are going to see more going up.”
Responding to passenger complaints following the disruption caused by the line closure, Neil said: “We know it has been really frustrating for people, but it’s more of a civil engineering project so it’s been harder to carry out because of the track lowering and bridge work.”
He added: “It is short term pain for long term gain.”
Originally, the plan was to close the line at weekends avoiding the need for an all out closure, but the engineering challenges forced rail operators to close the line entirely.
According to Neil, who has worked on the railways for nearly thirty years, the benefits of the electrification include less pollution, with the old, diesel trains eventually being replaced with a greener electric variety, and a more reliable service able to carry twice as many passengers than before.
For Glenn Wallis, secretary of the Barking to Gospel oak rail user group which started campaigning for improvements on the route in 2007, the electrification work is welcome, but long overdue.
He said: “We’re glad the electrification is going ahead. This could revolutionise the service.”
But one challenge remains before the line can reopen.
Neil said: “Once the physical work is done there are weeks and weeks of paperwork to get through with our colleagues.”
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