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Farnworth Tunnel boring work ‘ahead of schedule’

Network Rail is confident that its major tunnel boring work at Farnworth – an important enabler of electrification between Manchester and Preston – will be complete on time. 

During a site visit on 11 August to the tunnel near Bolton, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin was introduced to ‘Fillie’, the 9m diameter tunnel boring machine, which is being used to build the new 270m railway tunnel at Farnworth. 

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The work – which began in March – involves re-drilling the existing tunnel, using a machine bigger than those used on the Crossrail and Channel Tunnel projects, so that the rail line can be electrified. This will allow electric services to run from the end of 2016. 

Nick Spall, Network Rail’s LNW route delivery director, told us that he is confident the Farnworth work, which is due to be complete by 5 October, will be finished on time. 

He told RTM that there had been a few teething problems. But Fillie, which cost almost £2.5m from Oldham-based Tunnel Engineering Services (UK), is already ahead of schedule at the moment with 10m of tunnel bored, instead of the planned 9m. 

The works form part of Network Rail’s overall North of England programme, made up of various enhancements collectively costing more than £1bn. 

To prepare the tunnel ahead of Fillie’s work, more than 7,000 cubic metres of foam concrete have been pumped into the tunnel. Now that the machine has been launched it is tunnelling 24 hours a day, re-boring the tunnel, and installing 190 concrete sections which will form the tunnel lining. 

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After his site visit, McLoughlin said: “You can’t upgrade any rail infrastructure without causing a disruption — what I can say is that when this is completed, we will get a better service, a more resilient service and a brand new tunnel that takes two trains through it rather than one as currently happens.” 

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The transport secretary’s visit coincided with the government unveiling a blueprint for how £13bn of government investment in transport will help create the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. 

However, back in June, McLoughlin announced that one aspect of the ‘Powerhouse’ – TransPennine electrification between Leeds and Manchester – was ‘paused’ indefinitely. When asked about this, he said he was awaiting Sir Peter Hendy’s eagerly anticipated report in the autumn and that the work had not been cancelled, just ‘paused’. 

A full report on the site visit and the Farnworth Tunnel work will appear in the August/September edition of RTM.


John Gilbert   16/08/2015 at 21:16

I am a cynic where politicians are concerned. Given that they have every right to be furious at the total incompetence of Network Rail in its electrification schemes, and the waste of money on the apparently useless HOPS train, I shall nonetheless refuse to believe in any lifting of the "pause" on the two major schemes until it actually happens; politicians utter weasel words and it is their deeds by which we must judge them, even words from such a pleasant man as McLoughlin appears to be.

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