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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.

Archant

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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