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London-Norwich rail line set for £170m upgrade

Network Rail is gearing up to carry out a major package of upgrades worth £170m on the Great Eastern Main Line (GEML) during 2015: 

  • Overhead line upgrade: Engineers continue to upgrade 60-year-old equipment to improve reliability along the Great Eastern Main Line. In 2015, work in the Chelmsford area will be completed;
  • Witham: Installing new track and points at Witham;
  • Colchester: Engineers are returning to Colchester to complete the second part this project. Network Rail is remodelling the track and installing new sets of points;
  • Crossrail: Work continues to transform travel for commuters and longer-distance passengers between London, Essex and beyond;
  • The additional passenger capacity and renewed stations will mean major, long-term improvements; and
  • Brand new trains will replace the existing trains used on stopping services from Shenfield to London from 2017. 

The majority of the work on the railway line from London to Norwich will take place on Saturday and Sunday nights and weekday evenings, to avoid peak-time disruption. 

Currently, more than 1,300 passenger trains and around 100 freight trains a day use the GEML connecting London Liverpool Street with east London, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk – meaning the tracks are subjected to significant wear and tear. 

As part of the upgrade work on overhead lines, track and signalling, Network Rail is to use one of its fleet of ‘high output’ machines will start working its way along the line from January 2015 to improve the reliability of the railway while also providing a smoother ride. 

The company stated that by using the £42m machine it can cover double the distance every night in comparison with conventional methods. 

The timings for the high output ballast cleaning are: 

  • January to April: from Norwich to Haughley
  • April to May: from Ipswich to Stowmarket
  • May to October: from Colchester to Shenfield
  • November to December: from Norwich to Stowmarket 

Richard Schofield, Network Rail route managing director, said: “This essential upgrade is the railway’s equivalent of resurfacing a busy road. Running a safe, reliable railway depends on the track being in good condition – not just the metal rails, but the foundations on which they sit too. 

“We’re using one of the most modern pieces of kit on the railway, meaning the majority of our work can be done while trains are running on the adjacent track.” 

The high output work continues on the GEML in 2016, but is also planned to work on Saturday nights on the Ely to Peterborough line through the spring and summer. In late 2016 and into 2017, Network Rail will start installing new track on the route as it continues to upgrade the railway. 

Greater Anglia managing director Jamie Burles said: “In scheduling the work overnight and at off-peak times to avoid the main periods of commuter travel, we will be doing everything possible to minimise alterations to the normal train service. 

“The outcome of this programme and the other infrastructure investment that Network Rail is implementing next year will give us a better, more reliable railway.” 

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email


Mikeyb   01/11/2014 at 14:25

"Brand new trains will replace the existing trains on stopping services from Shenfield to London from 2017". People will ask what will happen to the Class 315s and 321s, will they be scrapped.? No, of course they won't, they will probably be transferred to Northern - the Cinderella franchise, that is not allowed brand new trains!

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