THE railway connecting the Forest with South Wales and Gloucester has reopened following three weeks of 24/7 works to prevent landslips along the Severn Estuary.

Engineers worked on a one-mile-stretch of railway, close to Purton between Lydney and Gloucester, to remove around 15,000 tonnes of material from the cliff face above the line between July 31 and August 18 as part of an ongoing resillience programme.

The railway was closed during that time to allow the works to be completed safely, with replacement bus services for passengers running between Newport and Gloucester, before it reopened on Friday (August 18).

More than 100 engineers from Network Rail and principal contractor, AmcoGiffen, along with their strategic partner QTS Group, worked around the clock to install an ‘active’ mesh system on the cliffs.

The teams worked more than 34,000 hours, with trained specialist rope access technicians abseiling down the cliff face, removing 1,000 tonnes of loose material before securing the specially designed netting with 5,000 rock bolts.  

Network Rail says the bespoke ‘active’ system will hold the cliff face in position and help to prevent landslips from damaging, and subsequently, closing the railway. 

The works were part of Network Rail’s £25 million Severn Estuary Resilience Programme which aims to improve the resilience of the “vital” link between south Wales and England, for passengers and freight.

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Rock bolts being drilled into the cliff face

A series of landslips along the line have caused multiple closures of the railway over the last few years.

Phase one of the project began last summer to remove 15,000 tonnes of material from the cliff and install 27,000 square metres of mesh and bolts along one stretch of the line over six weeks.

No landslips occurred there during a period of heavy rainfall in January, which Network Rail says highlights the success of the scheme with five major landslips having occurred there previously.

This summer’s works, Phase Two, took place just west of the Phase One site, at which three landslips occurred in January, causing the line to be closed for several days.

To safely run trains following those recent landslips, Network Rail imposed a temporary speed restriction (TSR) of 20mph – reduced from the normal line speed of 75mph.

This has caused nearly 6,000 delay minutes, costing more than £400,000 of taxpayers’ money.  

The completion of this next phase means the TSR can now be removed, improving journey times and reducing costs to the taxpayer.  

Nick Millington, route director for Network Rail Wales & Borders, said: “We are dedicated to improving resilience across the Wales & Borders route and we’re already seeing the benefit this multi-million-pound investment is having on the Severn Estuary line. The new mesh installed on a different section of the cliff, last Summer, has had zero landslips that have impacted the railway.  

“With Phase Two now complete, the whole line is better protected against severe weather events. We will be coming back to carry out more resilience work to further future proof this line against the challenging effects of climate change.  

“I would like to thank passengers and the local community for their patience while we carried these vital improvements.” 

Andy Crowley, operation director for Wales & Borders at AmcoGiffen, commented: “We know how important our rail infrastructure is to passengers and freight and we’re delighted to have safely and successfully achieved our targets during this blockade.  

“Working diligently alongside our sister company QTS Group, we’ve completed this crucial phase of the essential Severn Estuary Resilience Programme with the cutting slope stabilisation, handing back the blockade on time, as planned. 

“This project showcases our commitment to collaboration, excellence and innovation to ensure journey efficiency and reliability for customers with a minimum impact for our lineside neighbours.” 

Gary Burnett, Operations Director for QTS, added: “The effort that our team has put into ensuring the success of these works at the Severn Estuary is something to be proud of. 

“Being able to utilise the very best in rail plant innovation has allowed us to deliver these works on time, and as efficiently as possible, working in partnership with AmcoGiffen for Network Rail. 

“We are pleased to have managed to carry out these works with minimal disruption for our lineside neighbours and thank them for their patience during the period of works.” 

Network Rail and contractors will remain on site on the Severn Estuary to install more bolts and mesh until March 2024. This work will not be disruptive to rail services.  

Designs and plans for the next stage of this resilience project are currently being finalised, with teams expected to return next year to upgrade Phase One’s ‘passive’ system - that catches debris rather than holds it in place - with an ‘active’ system.