Network Rail: Extra £50 million needed to stop Scotland’s rail network crumbling

A SIGNIFICANT increase in spending to avert landslips and bridge collapses on Scotland’s railways has been announced following a series of incidents.

A SIGNIFICANT increase in spending to avert landslips and bridge collapses on Scotland’s railways has been announced following a series of incidents.

Network Rail is allocating an extra £50 million to make the 1,700-mile network more robust as it admitted not spending enough in the past.

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The move comes as part of the firm’s £4.1 billion plans for the five years from 2014, which also includes improvements such as electrifying more lines to speed-up journeys.

Several trains were hit by landslides last year, including a locomotive ploughing down a slope towards Loch Treig in the Highlands, and a passenger train derailed in Fife.

In 2010, a ScotRail train was saved by trees from plunging down an embankment after hitting a boulder in the Pass of Brander in Argyll.

The previous year, a fuel train crashed and caught fire in Ayrshire after a bridge collapsed under its weight at Stewarton because corrosion had not been detected. Network Rail said more rigorous standards had since been introduced.

The firm said key sites where work was required included the east coast main line just north of the Border, where the line crosses a cliff eroded by the sea.

The Edinburgh-London route may have to be diverted, like it was ten years ago, to move it away from unstable mine

workings in East Lothian.

Network Rail’s strategic business plan for Scotland, published yesterday, said research into the state of the network, which is up to 170 years old, showed a more rapid response was required.

The plan said: “Incidents such as those at Stewarton and the Pass of Brander, whilst not directly related to investment in a single period, underline the need to significantly increase investment levels above those historically allocated to these assets.”

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The firm said it will start to tackle the backlog of work on earthworks with total such spending increased to £405m compared to £355m in the five years to 2014.

Scotland has nearly half the rock cuttings on the British network, and there are plans to instal monitoring equipment to provide warnings of rockfalls.

Network Rail said Scotland was also particularly at risk from rainfall, overwhelming drainage and having a “devastating effect on slopes”.

The firm attributed several of last year’s landslips to “localised thunderstorms depositing tonnes of water” near rail lines.

The five-year plan involves both refurbishing poor earthworks more quickly and identifying at-risk sites earlier.

The approaches to all tunnels will be covered with netting following several landslips there.

The firm said bridges, which date to the 1840s, were so old compared to the 120-year design life of current ones that it was difficult to predict how they would perform in the future.

The firm said: “Incidents are rare. However, the consequences of failure can be severe.”

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Engineers welcomed the moves, saying they would improve the network’s reliability.

Philippa Oldham, head of transport and manufacturing at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: “Scotland’s wetter weather and more mountainous geography makes its railway network more susceptible to issues like mudslides and flooding, and investment to deal with these issues is long overdue.

“Work to deal with improving earthworks, drainage and remote monitoring will go some way to preventing these issues in future.”

The plan also includes restoring parts of the Edinburgh-Glasgow electrification project shelved by ministers last summer, with diversionary routes and lines to Dunblane and Alloa upgraded by 2019.

Electric trains, which cut journeys by quicker acceleration, are also planned for the Glasgow to East Kilbride route and the south suburban line in Edinburgh, which is mainly used by freight.

Cross-Border trains would also be speeded up by a junction upgrade at Carstairs in Lanarkshire.