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Parts of WCML reopened after track and signalling submerged in floodwater overnight

Most of the northern section of the West Coast Main Line has been reopened after extensive flooding of the tracks over the weekend as a result of the unprecedented ‘Storm Desmond’ in the north of England.

But the railway north of Carlisle, one of the cities worst affected by the severe rainfall, was still under eight feet of water on Sunday. Levels dropped by mid-morning today (7 December), but there has been extensive damage to track and other lineside equipment, as well as to fencing and buildings.

A thick layer of mud covered essential safety-critical equipment in eight separate cabinets – housing complex electrical equipment – which were submerged in water for more than 24 hours.

Network Rail staff worked overnight to open up lines previously blocked by floodwater by clearing landslips and damage caused by 70-80mph winds.

Mud covered and damaged track north of Carlisle

Debbie Francis from Network Rail said: “Now the floodwater has gone, our track workers and engineers are on the railway to assess the extent of the damage. There is an inch-thick layer of mud on much of our safety-critical equipment and eight electrical cabinets have been submerged in water for more than 24 hours, which will require a huge amount of work to rebuild and bring back into use.

“We have hundreds of staff working round the clock to keep as much of the railway open as possible. This will continue so we can reopen the WCML as quickly as we can.”

So far, services have resumed between Workington and Carnforth via Barrow, from Carnforth to Skipton, from Appleby to Carlisle and onto the WCML between Preston and Carlisle.

There is still some disruption on certain lines, especially between Settle and Carlisle, on the route north of Carlisle, between Carlisle and Workington and from Carlisle to Hexham.

The focus is now on reopening the section of the WCML north of Carlisle, but a clearer picture of timescales will only be provided once safety checks and repair plans have been completed.


Just yesterday, Network Rail predicted that the section would remain closed for several days after the water, around two miles north of Carlisle station, reached its peak. It is not expected to clear until tomorrow.

Martin Frobisher, Network Rail’s route managing director, said yesterday that after water receded in the north of Carlisle, engineers would have to rebuild a host of complex electrical and signalling equipment currently underwater. Dozens of other sites either flooded or were damaged as a result of the storm.

Cumbria faced massive storms in 2005 and 2009 which prompted the Environment Agency to up its investment in the region’s flooding defences – although no disaster had been as widespread in the region as Storm Desmond. In January 2014, train services in the county were also disrupted for around a week due to damage caused by strong winds and high tides.


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