OVER 40 tonnes of soot has been removed from the Severn Tunnel – an important milestone in the preparatory work ahead of a six week project to upgrade the railway running through the 130-year-old tunnel this autumn.

3,500 hours of work is under way ahead of the tunnel closing to trains for six weeks between 12th September and 21st October. During this period Network Rail will deliver a critical milestone in the project to deliver the new fleet of brand new electric trains, which will result in faster, quieter, greener trains for tens of thousands of passengers in South Wales, set to be in place by 2018.

The work forms part of Network Rail’s Railway Upgrade Plan to provide a bigger, better, more reliable railway for passengers. As well improved journeys, the electrification of the line between South Wales and London will deliver an economic boost for South Wales thanks to better connectivity to the UK capital, a critical factor for attracting inward investment.

Network Rail’s ‘orange army’ has now completed work to remove the soot and is carrying out repair and maintenance work during Saturday nights, while passenger trains are not scheduled to run, minimising disruption. A custom-made drilling rig is also being used to prepare holes for the anchors that will support new equipment which will power a fleet of electric trains.

During the six-week closure, 200 members of the orange army will be working day and night to install over eight miles of conductor rail, designed to provide power to the new electric trains. The scale of the engineering challenge involved and the extensive amount of machinery required to upgrade the four mile-long tunnel means that the closure is unavoidable.

Dan Tipper, area director at Network Rail Wales, said: “It was initially anticipated that around four to five tonnes of soot would be cleared, but the build-up of soot was greater than anticipated, and the team of engineers have removed over 40 tonnes. Removing the build-up of soot is an essential element of the extensive programme of preparation work that is taking place.

“The team has been working extremely hard every Saturday night since February as we deliver an essential phase of the work to upgrade the tunnel in preparation for a fleet of electric trains to run. Once this work is finished we will undertake an extensive six-week project to install the new electrical equipment. Wales is open to passengers and freight traffic during the upgrade but we are urging people to check before they travel.

“Without a six-week closure, it would take engineers up to five years to complete the upgrade, causing long-term disruption for passengers and delaying the introduction of the new electric trains.

“Electrification of the Great Western Main Line will transform the railway to make journeys faster, more reliable, greener and quieter for tens of thousands of passengers.”