A railway carriage in front of a lake with a cloudy sky in the background, Whitehaven, Cumbria, England

Testing for mystery water source in Whitehaven tunnel

Network Rail has confirmed that engineers are conducting tests to establish what is behind orange-coloured water entering a railway tunnel on the Cumbrian coast.

The tunnel runs one kilometre under the ground and is prone to flooding, with this requiring a culvert to drain the water into Whitehaven Harbour to ensure that trains are able to run safely. Since the end of 2022, water in the Queens Dock has changed to a rusty colour, with this leading to the tests being carried out.

Detailed tests will work out how the water is entering the tunnel, with Network Rail collaborating with the Environment Agency, Coal Authority and Whitehaven Harbour Commissioners to find a solution to the problem. It is believed that the rusty colour of the water is due to past mining operations in the area, with the water containing iron ochre.

Network Rail’s North West Route Director, Phil James, said:

“We know this complex investigation work is causing frustration as it's taking a long time, so we thank harbour users, rail passengers and local people for their continued patience.

“We’re committed to working with the Environment Agency and Coal Authority to find the source of the water impacting our railway tunnel and the harbour so we can plan next steps to find a solution together. Solving this is also important for our passengers and freight, whose journeys we hope will be made more reliable and faster once the source of the mysterious orange water is made clear.”

Pete Miles, Area Environment Manager at Network Rail, added:

“Analysis of water samples from Whitehaven Harbour found no evidence of sewage pollution. The results did show some increased metals in the water, and we are working with Network Rail who are actively investigating this further to determine the potential source.”

Network Rail has confirmed that the period of testing will continue for several weeks.


Image credit: iStock

Video credit: Network Rail


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