Job done! Northampton trains back on track after Victorian railway tunnel gets a facelift

Engineers complete a year's work in five days to stop delays through Crick tunnel

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 8:14 am

Train services are up and running again between Northampton and Rugby after engineers finished a year's work on a Victorian tunnel in less than a week.

Network Rail decided to cram giving the 140-year-old Crick tunnel a facelift into a five-day period before the easing of lockdown restrictions increased passenger numbers.

Problems with water seeping through brickwork cost passenger and freight trains using the route a total of 250 hours delays between 2012 and 2020.

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Engineers moved in for five days to refurbish Crick tunnel in Northamptonshire. Photo: Network Rail
Engineers moved in for five days to refurbish Crick tunnel in Northamptonshire. Photo: Network Rail

So Network Rail and train operators agreed to close the tracks and fix the problem once and for all instead of shutting down trains every weekend for a year to renovate the masonry, drainage and track bed.

It meant passengers travelling on replacement buses between Northampton, Long Buckby and Rugby instead of London Northwestern Railway trains between Monday and Friday last week.

But condensing the work into a few days while the Covid-19 pandemic is keeping passenger numbers low also sliced a huge £7.5million off the estimated £11m bill.

Rail Minister, Daventry MP Chris Heaton-Harris, said: “Delivering vital maintenance work while our railways are quieter has seen a crucial stretch of the Northampton loop upgraded, set to reduce the number of delays experienced by passengers.

New gullies have been dug to stop the tunnel flooding, forcing trains to travel slower

“I thank passengers for their patience during this short closure, which has ensured that we can deliver an efficient and value for money upgrade, focused on improving services and putting passengers first.”

Engineers carried out similar work on the 1½-mile long Kilsby Tunnel during last year's first lockdown.

It’s thought to be the longest full closure of Crick tunnel since it opened in 1881.

And because no trains at all were running – a 13-mile stretch of the 25,000 volt electric power lines could be turned off between Northampton and Rugby to allow for other essential repairs to be made.

Diggers at work at the entrance to the 140-year-old Crick Tunnel.

Network Rail route director James Dean added: “This speedy upgrade of Crick tunnel shows how the rail industry is coming together to get the railway in the best possible shape for passengers when they can return once coronavirus travel restrictions are eased. This is all part of our commitment to build back better as the country emerges from the pandemic.”

Lawrence Bowman, customer experience director for London Northwestern Railway, said: “We know unexpected delays following bad weather are frustrating for our customers which is why Network Rail’s work to tackle this flooding hotspot will prove so valuable as more people begin travelling again.”