Box Tunnel rail work on schedule!

First images of construction work getting underway in Box Tunnel. Click on images to enlarge.
First images of construction work getting underway in Box Tunnel. Click on images to enlarge.

Rail travellers through Bath are having to get used to new connecting arrangements while the direct rail line to London through Box Tunnel is closed.

Work is now underway to lower the track floor to allow Network Rail to carry through the power cable needed to electrify the Great Western Line.

Rail service information poster on Bath Spa Station.
Rail service information poster on Bath Spa Station. Click on images to enlarge.

From August the 1st – and right through the month – it means Bath Spa and Chippenham will be connected by buses.

I spotted plenty of signage  to direct people through to the nearby Bath Bus Station from where connecting services are running.

This way to Bath Bus Station.
This way to Bath Bus Station.

Brunel’s historic 1.83 mile long  Box Tunnel – one of the most significant structures on the main line between Bristol Temple Meads and London Paddington – will be closed until the end of August.

In a press release Network Rail say their ‘orange army’ has hit the first week milestone in the project to prepare Bath’s railway line for electrification, with all work currently on schedule.

The £50m project started on Saturday 18 July and involves lowering 10km of track through Dundas Aqueduct, Box Tunnel, Middle Hill Tunnel and Sydney Gardens, as well as the installation of 11 new sets of points.

The purpose of lowering the track is to make room for the overhead line equipment that will be needed to power a new fleet of longer, faster, quieter and greener electric trains to run underneath. By lowering the track it also removes the need to make significant changes to Bath’s historic architecture.

Over the last week the ‘orange army’ has completed track-lowering work under the A4 at Box Ashley and through Middle Hill Tunnel on the main line towards London Paddington.

Despite being on schedule, the work has not been without its challenges. These have included the discovery that some ‘catch pits’ – part of the railway’s drainage system – in the tunnels had deteriorated to a greater extent than expected. As a result the team has widened the scope of the electrification project to ensure those affected are replaced.

Andy Haynes, Network Rail’s project director for the West of England, said: “The first week of this complex project has gone well, with all our initial milestones completed on time despite some unexpected challenges.

Track lowering work underway.
Track lowering work underway.

“This section of track was last renewed in the 1970s, so we knew we could encounter extra work as we went along. We’ve made sure we give ourselves just enough contingency in our plans to deal with the unknowns which often crop up when working on ageing sections of the railway.”

To complete the work by 1 September there are timetable changes and in some cases replacement bus services running to and from Bath over the six-week duration of the project. Passengers are therefore advised to check rail websites for travel information if their journeys involve passing through this area.

Andy continued: “Bath remains open for business, albeit your journey may take longer than usual.
“I apologise for any inconvenience this may cause, but please bear with us while we carry out this work to provide a better travelling experience for passengers in the future.”

The work underway now is the most significant involving this rail route under Box Hill since construction began in December 1838.

The lives of about 100 workers were lost in the process of blasting a way through the limestone but the tunnel was open to traffic in June 1841.

New gravel for the reduced rail bed in the tunnel.
Trucks to carry away the old gravel bed in the tunnel?

In the end  up to 4,000 men worked on completing the job. When the two ends met in the middle the margin of error was found to be only two inches or 50mm.

We shall start to see things happening around the line as it passes through Bath’s Sydney Gardens in the middle of next month.

A spokesperson for Network Rail told me: ” On 17th August we will start to put up the safety fencing around the line in preparation for the works.

We are planning to close off the iron footbridge to pedestrians but the other footbridge will remain open for use.”

A closer view of the action.
A closer view of the action.

The section of line through the gardens has also to be lowered as the bridges are listed and cannot be taken down – although safety barriers of some description will have to be put across them.

Network Rail are well aware of how sensitive a section this is and – with the aid of a sloping ditch – are hoping to keep people away from the dangers of a live power cable but still allowing them to see the new electric trains that will be using the line from the summer of 2017.

Further travel information for getting about by rail during the Bath work can be found by visiting First Great Western’s website Alternatively, National Rail Enquiries also has up-to-date travel advice on their website