A £25m investment to rescue a vital Wales and Borders transport link has just been revealed by Network Rail.
The Newport-Gloucester line connects South Wales with the West Country, Midlands and north of England, delivering a critical link for passengers.
The line runs along the Severn Estuary, leaving it exposed to rain, wind and the sea, meaning the railway line has increasingly been ravaged by climate change and extreme weather.
More frequent extreme weather has led to five devastating landslips on the line in the last two years alone, triggering extended closures and temporary speed restrictions, delaying over 200,000 trains.
Bill Kelly, Route Director, Network Rail Wales and Borders, said “we’ve seen a huge increase in extreme weather events across our network in recent years."
He added, "climate change is happening here and now, and across Wales and Borders - from the Conwy Valley to the Welsh marches and Severn Estuary - we’re responding by building a more resilient railway.”
On top of impacting customer journeys, the weather is also affecting essential freight services, with 43 freight trains passing through the line each week, moving: steel, petrol, and construction materials.
The route is also responsible for keeping supermarkets stocked with essential supplies, serving ‘Tesco’ trains.
Jess Lippett, Senior Route freight Manager, Network Rail Wales & Western, said “this is one the busiest and most important freight routes in Wales and Borders, so it’s really important to the economy."
"As we saw through the pandemic, this route really is a lifeline, and the current shortage in HGV drivers means it’s playing an even more vital role."
The Manager continued, "people are amazed when I tell them that a single freight train keeps 70 or more lorries off Britain’s congested road network. With carbon emissions 76% lower, rail freight is also making a significant contribution to meeting the climate change challenge.”
The Newport Gloucester line is a significant diversionary route, providing a direct rail link between South Wales and London when the Severn Tunnel is closed.
Due to the long-term viability of the line being at risk, Network Rail engineers developed a multi-million-pound plan to the protect the consequential railway’s future.
The project represents the biggest investment in the Newport-Gloucester line since it was opened in the 1850s.
Work will begin in summer 2022 and will include the removal of thousands of tonnes of material from the cliff face.
An innovative mesh and bolt system will be installed, on top of three miles of track, stabilising the rockface and preventing landslips from affecting the track below.
Over 1000 soil nails will be drilled to a depth of up to 10 metres, and 9,000 metres of mesh will be put in place, alongside the removal of 30,000 tonnes of spoil from the bank.
James Price, Chief Executive at Transport for Wales, said “the storms and flooding we saw in 2020 were a powerful reminder of the growing impact of climate change on our transport network."
He added, "we work very closely with Network Rail, and it underlines the importance of their work to increase the resilience of the railway across Wales and Borders.”