Historic Northamptonshire railway tunnel getting a new lease of life ready for trains to get back to normal

Engineers shore up leaky brickwork and drains in 180-year-old Kilsby Tunnel

Wednesday, 6th May 2020, 10:51 am
Updated Wednesday, 6th May 2020, 10:53 am

Work has started to give a 180-year-old railway tunnel in Northamptonshire a new lease of life to make it ready for resumption of a full train service once the Covid-19 crisis eases.

Historic Kilsby Tunnel, near Daventry, has been a hotspot for delays as its Victorian brickwork leaks water during bad weather.

But Network Rail's engineers are using the lull in regular services and May's two Bank Holiday weekends to start work early on replacing track and improving drainage in the 1½-mile long tunnel, which is usually used by around 400 trains each day between London and Birmingham.

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Route director James Dean said: “The West Coast main line is the backbone of Britain and keeping it maintained and running safely is a top priority.

"With fewer trains running because of the country’s continued effort to stop the spread of coronavirus, we have been able to prioritise and bring forward this critical work on this economically important section of railway.

“This can only be done by our dedicated railway engineers, signallers, maintenance, control room and operations staff bravely working to keep people who do need to travel by rail, and critical freight goods, moving throughout the crisis.

"In carrying out this work they are making sure the railway is at its best when Britain emerges from this coronavirus pandemic.”

Work under way at the historic Kilsby railway tunnel.  Photo: Network Rail / G Bickerdike
Work under way at the historic Kilsby railway tunnel. Photo: Network Rail / G Bickerdike

Temporary speed limits imposed because of poor track quality will be lifted following the work, ending delays experienced by thousands of passengers on the route in recent years.

Kilsby Tunnel was believed to be the world's longest railway tunnel when it opened in 1838, taking three years to finish using an estimated 30million bricks. The two tunnel entrances were made listed buildings by in 1987 marking their special architectural and historic interest.

The current work requires the direct route from Milton Keynes to Rugby to be closed until May 16 with trains diverted via Northampton. Engineers are carrying out more than 150 maintenance projects while the section of track is shut.

Passenger numbers plummeted by 85 per cent after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the country to stay at home on March 23 in a bid to slow the spread of Covid-19. But train operators including London Northwestern Railway, which runs services through Northamptonshire, pledged to keep an emergency service running to ensure essential staff could get to work.

This lithograph was taken from an 1837 drawing during construction of Kilsby Tunnel. Photo: Getty Images

Key workers planning to use trains through Northamptonshire this weekend are being advised to check their journeys using National Rail Enquiries online journey planner before travelling as engineering work at Kilsby and at Bletchley will disrupt services.

Drainage and track replacement work under way at the 180-year-old Kilsby Tunnel