Whilst the recent storms have caused significant damage across much of the UK and its rail network, the South East's commuter network has suffered numerous problems since just before Christmas with some very significant landslides causing some equally very significant disruption. This has proved to be equally a headache for Network Rail and the train operators, but I suspect an unexpected bonus for contractors and plant suppliers. As most of these incidents have occurred at fairly remote locations, sightings on here connected with these have been almost non-existent. I thought it might therefore be interesting to summarise my understanding of whats been going on, and what continues to be ongoing.
It appears that most of the issues in the South East are a result of a combination of Victorian infrastructure finally failing, and having been built with very steep gradients originally, and the predominantly clay geology of the South East. It is particularly notable that the three significant ongoing issues are all within or very close to Tandridge district (and indeed two are almost within the same OS grid, and another two are within five miles of one another.
The first issues developed just before Christmas after a period of heavy rain. The Brighton Mainline had to be temporarily closed overnight due to movement on the bank just north of Wivelsfield. This had been monitored for some time, but I understand it became noticeable that on the up line troughing was suddenly not in alignment. Contractors mobilised across the Christmas Holiday and by boxing day a temporary haul road was being built across Bedelands nature reserve. For the next six weeks, sheet piling was installed at the base of the bank, and the bank re-profiled behind it. In terms of RRV's L & W Contractors provided Volvo RRV115 and a trailer for a night shift on 23/24 December to replenish ballast on the up line around the slip. Coombes then provided their pair of Liebherrs and four trailers to Haywards Heath in January for more night shifts. Otherwise, all heavy machines were specialist piling equipment working from the nature reserve. Fortunately, save for a few overnight closures, the line remained open with a 20mph temporary speed restriction, the slip being caught just in time.
Less fortunate was the situation around Godstone on the Redhill to Tonbridge line. On 28th December the River Eden burst it's banks at Crowhurst causing a complete collapse of the railway embankment above. The location required a road to be dug through farmland, across the river, and through a closed railway embankment. When access was eventually gained, the undermined railway has had to be completely dismantled and rebuilt from the ground upwards through a process of infill and consolidation to build the ground back up to the height of the line. There are plenty of pictures online showing the extent of the damage. Some 40,000 tonnes of ballast is being moved in by rail, but as the line is separated, this is being shuttled from wagons to the edge of the site by Sonic Rail Doosans and trailers (two appear to be present on site). Coombes have again also had some involvement with their Liebherrs, I believe on vegetation removal. RRV access is I believe at Godstone station car park. This line is expected to remain closed until 30th March.
Around the same time, the East Grinstead branch had to be closed south of Lingfield due to a slip next to the up line - more on this below.
Further rain then caused issues at Ockley around 16th January, with a slip just south of the station (this area being notorious for instability in recent years). This was rectified during a four day closure by sheet piling using several TRS Doosans and trailers working on track.
On 13th February, Network Rail's luck really ran out at East Grinstead. Having managed to reopen the line in December after a couple of days, the embankment then slipped again closing the line, and then again quickly afterwards. Furthermore, two more slips then occurred nearby as well. The upshot of this is the need to move another 25,000 tonnes of ballast to site by rail. TRS have various RRV's on site to deal with this and this closure is likely to continue until 31st March.
Shortly afterwards, a cutting 2.5 miles south of Betchworth tunnel slid onto the up line. This resulted in a five day closure from 19th February onwards. By this time, plant may have been in short supply as unusually, Podtrak provided machinery alongside TRS to remove the loose fill, and build a ballast bag wall to hold back the remainder. Access for this was from Chester Avenue at Dorking, some three miles or so from the slip.
on 22nd February, the driver of the first West Coastway train discovered a quantity of sandy soil and vegetation fouling the down line at the east end of Hove Tunnel, resulting in the Hove to Brighton line being blocked for 24 hours. This was cleared by Coombes using one of their Liebherr RRV's.
Finally (for now), this weekend an emergency possession has been taken on the Uckfield line to repair a damaged embankment with sheet piles again at Crowhurst, just north of where the line crosses the already closed Redhill line. This is just north east of the major slip from December on that route. I have no idea what RRVs are on this, but access will either be from Edenbridge Town (Travis Perkins) AP or Cowden.
Thanks for reading - and here's hoping for a dryer Spring!