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Will the weekend rail line closures be worth it for East Anglian passengers?

PUBLISHED: 14:17 04 February 2016 | UPDATED: 14:18 04 February 2016

Network Rail engineers upgrading the track and electric wires near Shenfield over Christmas and the New Year.

Network Rail engineers upgrading the track and electric wires near Shenfield over Christmas and the New Year.


The rail blockade of East Anglia starts on Saturday with no through trains between the region and London for 10 weekends until the middle of April.

Rail passengers will have to use the bus at weekends

Starting this weekend, and every weekend until Easter, trains from the region to London will stop at Ingatestone.

From there passengers will catch buses to Newbury Park tube station, which is on the Central line and has trains running into the centre of the capital.

The time taken to reach Liverpool Street will be at least 45 minutes longer (possibly more depending on road traffic and the amount of time you have to wait for a tube train) – although passengers heading to central London will not have to change at Liverpool Street if they have a Travelcard.

Passengers using Oyster cards will have to check in and out at Liverpool Street – if you use them at Newbury Park you will be charged for a Zone Four tube journey as well as your rail fare.

The RMT union is threatening a 48-hour tube strike from 9pm on Saturday over a dispute over the closure of ticket offices.

Talks are currently taking place, but if the strike goes ahead there are unlikely to be many trains from Newbury Park on Sunday – making it even more difficult to reach the capital.

Bosses at Abellio are aware of the threatened dispute and will be giving passengers further advice if the strike does go ahead.

Network Rail engineers are carrying out work to track and overhead wires between Shenfield and Forest Gate over eight successive weekends – and will then be moving to the Chelmsford/Ingatestone area in April.

But will passengers notice any improvements at the end of the work?

Will the days of delays and cancellations caused by “signalling problems” or “overhead line issues” be eliminated or radically reduced? Will trains be able to travel at full speed even on the hottest days of the summer?

Network Rail engineers will be putting up new wires at Brentwood, laying new track at Maryland, Forest Gate and Shenfield, and creating new sidings at Gidea Park for trains for Crossrail.

Much of the work is linked with the Crossrail project which will see trains travel direct from 
Shenfield through a new tunnel under London to Reading or Heathrow Airport.

Those benefits will not be fully realised until Crossrail opens in 2018 – at which time passengers from this region will be able to change trains at Stratford to reach the gateway to the west country or Europe’s busiest airport.

In the nearer term, the improvements to the overhead wires should make delays caused by overhead line faults less common – and should reduce the occasions when trains have to run slowly because of hot weather.

The system of overhead lines (called catenary) was installed when the lines were electrified in the 1940s. This has been improved, new wires installed, voltage changed and fittings have been replaced over the years.

But the basic system has not changed over the years.

During the line closures the entire structure will be replaced. That will mean the lines will be able to remain taut when they expand in heat – and should allow trains to continue to run at full speed rather than 
having to slow down to avoid snagging.

The replacement of some track, including points, should allow trains to travel over it faster – and it should be less likely to fail.

But will passengers notice immediate improvements following the completion of the work in mid-April?

It’s unlikely there will be a huge instant change. Journeys will not immediately become smoother or faster.

What it should do, however, is to make existing services more reliable.

When statistics for delays are published later this year, it should show things have improved from the spring onwards.

And when new trains are finally introduced as part of the new rail franchise which starts later this year they should be able to travel faster, cutting journey times and eventually making it possible to achieve the “Norwich in 90, Ipswich in 60” ambition.

A spokeswoman for Network Rail said: “Network Rail are continuing to deliver significant improvements to the Great East Main Line between London Liverpool Street and Ingatestone as part of Network Rail’s Railway Upgrade Plan.

“These improvements will increase reliability of services for passengers travelling on the railway in Anglia and to and from London.

“These works include improvements of the overhead lines which power the trains, as well as upgrades in preparation for Crossrail which will help to ease crowding on existing services and at Liverpool Street station.”

Abellio Greater Anglia is managing journeys between the region and London during the line closures. It will be liaising with Network Rail throughout the work and will be monitoring progress in a bid to ensure the lines reopen on time.

A spokesman for Abellio said: “We will be doing all we can to provide the best-possible alternative services whilst these improvement works, which will help to deliver a more reliable railway, are taking place.

“Rail passengers are advised to check their travel details in advance and we are grateful for the co-operation and patience of our customers during this time.”

Normal ticket prices will apply for journeys during the line closures.

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  • I am sick of hearing about it. Why not simply decide no trains at weekends? Make it Monday to Friday; and either drive or get a coach at the weekends... Coaches will be more frequent to cope with this demand. I know not everyone agrees, but it would allow maintenance and line upgrades without the problems, and you wouldn't have to worry about the time duration differences between what the train would have been and what the rail replacement is.

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    Ipswich Entrepreneur

    Thursday, February 4, 2016

  • To Amsterdam81: I suspect that the problem with multiple line occupations (which sounds like a good idea at first) is that you can't then get your trains with new track and other "stuff" to the sites that are being worked on, because the line has been cut elsewhere. Obviously you can use road transport up to a point, but rail materials are big and heavy and lots of sites don't have suitable road access anyway. The advantages of doing whole weekends rather than night work is that, on any given night, a good deal of the time is taking getting your workers, equipment and materials to and from the site. You can't start doing that till the last train has passed and you've got to have finished before the first one comes along next day!

    Report this comment

    Baptist Trainfan

    Thursday, February 4, 2016

  • No Jimbo, it was only the lines West of Exeter which were converted on that fateful weekend - everything East of there was already dual gauge or narrow, a process which had gone on for many years. Nevertheless it was still an amazing achievement (especially when you realise that it was done with hand tools and brute force) and it must have been incredibly well-organised. However we must remember that railways were physically much simpler in those days: no overhead wiring or electronic signalling, for example. They were much less safe, into the bargain!

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    Baptist Trainfan

    Thursday, February 4, 2016

  • Would have liked it if crossrail was extended to Ipswich as then this would have opened up the southwest of England for Anglia rail users as I cannot see the east West corridor ever coming about

    Report this comment


    Thursday, February 4, 2016

  • This is TERRIBLE NEWS for clowns wanting to get to London and beyond - it is ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE to get on a replacement bus service when wearing clown trousers

    Report this comment

    The Clown

    Thursday, February 4, 2016

  • Readers may be interested to know that in 1892 the entire line from Paddington to Penzance was converted from board gauge to standard gauge over a single weekend. Just to repeat, over 300 miles of railway was converted in a single weekend. How does that compare with 124 years later?

    Report this comment


    Thursday, February 4, 2016

  • Many congratulations again to Ben Gummer MP's father John Selwyn, who - lest we forget - was a member of John Major's Cabinet that privatised the railways, against all sensible advice, including even the 'Daily Telegraph's. When not force-feeding his daughter (inevitably called Cordelia) BSE burgers, this wretched man promised us during during the early 1990s that rail privatisation would cure all Britain's public transport ills. A quarter of a Century on, and the full disaster of that decision is still unravelling. A policy that was even more abysmally muddle-headed, in its own way, than the Poll Tax. Still, "We're all in it together", eh? Aboard the 'special bus service', that is...

    Report this comment

    Dave Allard's English Teecher

    Thursday, February 4, 2016

  • Any renewals will cause disruption. The problem is they only want to do one piece at a time and therefore passengers end up with successive periods of disruption. It would be better to do any necessary works on multiple stretches of line in the same weekend window rather than 3 months now then 3 months later when they work on another stretch. What do other railways in Europe do?

    Report this comment


    Thursday, February 4, 2016

  • We had similar disruptive carnage about a year ago, at which point as a family we gave up on weekend trips by rail! We found driving to Upminster or Epping (both Zone 6) and using 1-Day Travelcards massively easier and cheaper with none of the disruption. That is what we always do now if visiting the Capital. It seems most of this disruption is not specifically for us East Anglians anyway, mainly for Crossrail. I certainly haven't noticed any lessening of the usual train, signal, points etc failures since last years disruption for Engineering Works so don't hold your breath this year!

    Report this comment


    Thursday, February 4, 2016

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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