Rail Industry Focus


Significant civil engineering at Farnworth tunnel nears completion

Source: RTM Dec/Jan 16

Nick Spall, Network Rail’s route delivery director for LNW (N), discusses the developments at Farnworth Tunnel and the lessons learned for the rest of CP5 and beyond.

As RTM went to press, Network Rail was on the cusp of completing “one of the most significant civil engineering programmes it has undertaken in the north west for several decades”. 

The re-boring of Farnworth Tunnel, which has been the focus of much media attention for the last eight months, was completed towards the end of October – later than expected, after Network Rail and tunnelling contractor Murphy stumbled on “exceptionally poor ground conditions”. This forced the installation of the P-way and re-connection of the line, and the rebuilding of Farnworth and Moses Gate stations, to be pushed back. 

The whole project – an important enabler of electrification between Manchester and Preston – was meant to be complete by 5 October. Instead, passengers on one of the region’s busiest rail corridors had to wait until mid-December before a full timetable was restored.

Work to upgrade the Victorian-built structure to accommodate two electrified lines started in May. But the original twin tunnels, which carried the railway under the A666, were not large enough for overhead lines. 

This meant that during the work Network Rail kept one of the 270m-long tunnels open, while completely rebuilding the other – just 1.5m away – to make it fit two tracks and the OLE. While trains have been running in both directions on a single line, services have been less frequent but more carriages have been added to trains to maintain the usual level of capacity. 

Farnworth Tunnel at night edit

RTM had visited the site when Fillie, the UK’s largest TBM, started boring the tunnel. And we have kept readers up-to-date with the project’s progress via our website.


Fast-forwarding to December 2015 and Network Rail, alongside principal contractor Buckingham Group, made a big push towards completing the project. 

On the weekend of 12-13 December, engineers worked round the clock to connect the new tracks through the tunnel. We caught up with Nick Spall, LNW (N) route delivery director at Network Rail, to discuss the work, lessons learned and what is left to do. 

“Since the breakthrough [Sunday 25 October], we have been removing the concrete receiving pits we’d built for the tunnelling machine,” he said. “We also installed the P-way through the tunnel with ballast and getting everything ready for entering service. We have done a lot in the last six weeks.” 

As part of the project, the team had to demolish and rebuild Farnworth and Moses Gate train stations in line with the new tracks. These have now been completed, as well as reconstructing a road bridge at Cemetery Road, but Spall told us it was “all hands to the pumps to get the stations ready”. 


Much of the P-way had been installed through the tunnel prior to the weekend work in December. “We installed the P-way through the new bore pretty much as soon as we could,” he said. When RTM talked to him in mid-December, the team was just doing a tie-in with the temporary S&C that had been installed, as well as doing the re-signalling and lots of testing to make sure all the systems were in place. 

237 Track workers outside Farnworth tunnel 2 edit

Following this work, a full timetable was restored through the tunnel on 14 December. However, a speed restriction has been applied on this new section of railway, which will be removed after further work in early 2016. 

“The last bit of work being done at Farnworth is scheduled for the end of January and beginning of February over two weekends,” said Spall. “This is to do the permanent tie-in and plain line through, restoring everything to line speed [this will support an increase in line speed to 100mph]. At the moment there is a limit through the temporary S&C.” 

Integrated project planning 

Asked what lessons Network Rail will be taking away from this challenging project, Spall told us: “The one unique thing during this project which could stand us in really good stead for the rest of CP5 is the very integrated project planning approach with the TOCs – Northern and TPE – and all the communications that went round with the passengers. 

“We worked really closely, as an industry, to minimise as much as we could the disruption. And I think the close working relationships, which were forged through this project, will carry on and stand us in good stead for the rest of CP5.” 

With regards to the civil engineering aspect, he added that it is one of the most significant Network Rail has carried out on the rail network in the north west for several decades. “But it has been, for me, very much a joined-up industry approach.” 

Alex Hynes, managing director for Northern Rail, said that with services now running again through the newly developed Farnworth Tunnel, there is an opportunity to not only provide extra seats to Northern’s passengers travelling through Bolton, but to also start planning for an exciting new phase of electrification in the north west. 

“Our customers have been amazingly patient throughout this complex and challenging project,” he said. “What better way to reward them than with bigger and better electric trains. We’re really looking forward to being able to share the benefits of electrification in the north west with our customers.” 

Spall added that completing Farnworth Tunnel would have been “impossible” without the thorough understanding of the TOCs and their passengers. “We really appreciate their patience,” he said. 


Back in August, Network Rail told RTM it was confident the electrification of the Manchester to Preston electrification would be complete by the end of 2016. 

However, following the Hendy Review, Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) – in a paper to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – stated that this has been delayed to December 2017. 

The TfGM paper also suggested that Bolton-Wigan and Oxenholme-Windermere electrification has been pushed back from December 2017 completion dates into CP6. 

We asked Spall about this, and he said: “There has been a complete review of enhancements projects for Network Rail nationally, and that will be published shortly. What people will see now in the north west is a lot of work on electrification gantries going up, and we’ll be cracking on full speed ahead now.”

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