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Werrington Tunnel opens to unlock faster journeys for Grantham rail passengers on the East Coast Main Line

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Improved reliability and quicker journey times could be on the cards now a new tunnel which carries freight trains underneath the busy East Coast Main Line has opened.

The Werrington Tunnel, north of Peterborough, is part of a billion pound project designed to bring significant improvements to passenger journeys on the East Coast Main Line, which runs through Grantham.

It is hoped that by easing congestion on existing tracks the project will unlock the potential to shave time off journeys, allow more passenger trains through, and will see improved reliability,

The revamped entrance to Grantham railway station. (46864126)
The revamped entrance to Grantham railway station. (46864126)

The freight tunnel is part of the £1.2bn East Coast Upgrade, which will provide more seats and enable quicker journeys between London and Scotland.

The completed project will help pave the way for the massive infrastructure roll out across the North and Midlands recently announced in the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP).

The IRP sets out £96 billion worth of investment into the railways that will deliver improvements to communities, supporting economic growth by transforming both East–West and North–South links.

Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris said: “This country’s railways have long been home to marvels of engineering and the new Werrington Tunnel shows that we are continuing that proud tradition.

“Opening this new section of railway marks the end of a project which saw Network Rail engineers deliver an incredible feat installing an 11,000-tonne concrete tunnel, freeing up tracks and unlocking new opportunities for rail freight.

“Our investment in the railways, including the unprecedented £96bn we are spending through the Integrated Rail Plan, means there are even more opportunities to move goods by rails, taking HGVs off the road.”

The engineering needed to install the tunnel saw a UK-first, as the 11,000-tonne curved concrete tunnel, 1,000 tonnes heavier than the Eiffel Tower, was slid into place under the existing railway in January this year.

Werrington Tunnel on the East Coast Main Line (53615158)
Werrington Tunnel on the East Coast Main Line (53615158)

The ‘curved box’ was built next to the East Coast Main Line in nine, interconnected sections.

The structure is 155m long, 9.5m wide and 5.1m high, with 1m thick walls.

In July, the new track installed inside the tunnel was connected to the existing lines.

Work continued to install the signalling system which was commissioned over a single weekend in September.

Vital testing of the new tunnel then took place to enable trains to start using the infrastructure.

Rob McIntosh, managing director for Network Rail’s Eastern region, said: “From building the huge concrete tunnel onsite next to the East Coast Main Line, to pushing it into place in a UK first for engineering, to installing new track and signalling equipment to connect it to the existing lines — it’s been amazing to see the progress our teams have made on this ground-breaking project.

“Passengers travelling between London, Peterborough, the North of England and Scotland will benefit from faster, more reliable journeys as longer freight trains can now dive underneath the famous passenger route.

“I’m proud of our team’s brilliant response to the challenges of the Covid pandemic and how they reached major milestones on the project when it was at its peak.

"Using innovative methods, we’ve also been able to avoid major disruption for passengers, as services have continued running throughout the majority of the work.

"We want to thank passengers as well as people in the community for their continued patience.”

David Horne, managing director at LNER said: “This unique project has seen huge cross-industry collaboration, with Network Rail working together with train operators and project partners to deliver this essential part of the East Coast upgrade.

"The completion of this project will reduce delays and create capacity to enable more LNER services to be launched in our new timetable.”

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