The new route was officially opened by Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris on Thursday (December 9). Peterborough MPs Paul Bristow and Shailiesh Vara were also in attendance, along with bosses from Network Rail and GB Railfreight.
The remarkable project will see freight trains pass underneath the busy East Coast Main Line and ensure that passenger services will no longer be disrupted by freight trains crossing the tracks.
By easing congestion on existing tracks, the project will unlock the potential to shave time off journeys, allow more passenger trains through, and will see improved reliability for journeys using the line daily.
This is the latest step in the £1.2bn East Coast Upgrade, which will provide more seats and enable quicker journeys between London, the north of England and Scotland. It is also a UK engineering first as the 11,000 tonne curved concrete tunnel was slid into place under the existing railway in January this year. The ‘curved box’ was built next to the East Coast Main Line in nine, interconnected sections. The structure is 155m long, 9.5m wide and 5.1m high, with 1m thick walls
Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris said: “This country’s railways have long been home to marvels of engineering and the new Werrington Tunnel shows that we are continuing that proud tradition.
“Opening this new section of railway marks the end of a project which saw Network Rail engineers deliver an incredible feat installing an 11,000-tonne concrete tunnel, freeing up tracks and unlocking new opportunities for rail freight.
“Our investment in the railways, including the unprecedented £96bn we are spending through the Integrated Rail Plan, means there are even more opportunities to move goods by rails, taking HGVs off the road.”
North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara said: “I was very pleased to welcome Chris Heaton-Harris to my constituency to view the new two-track railway which will ease congestion for passenger trains and enable the slower freight trains to travel under the East Coast Main Line.
“The tunnel is an impressive feat of engineering and as it enters into service, it will make a significant difference to ensuring that there is more capacity for passengers on the network. This vital work is a welcome asset to our local railway network.”
John Smith, CEO of GB Railfreight, said: “The Werrington tunnel is a win for both consumers and the rail freight industry. It will not only improve passenger journeys, but also crucially unlock much-needed extra capacity on the network for freight services. This is an important investment by the government and furthers our industry’s efforts to create a more efficient supply chain across the UK, whilst making crucial environmental and regional investment progress at the same time.”
David Horne, Managing Director at LNER, said: “This unique project has seen huge cross-industry collaboration, with Network Rail working together with train operators and project partners to deliver this essential part of the East Coast upgrade. The completion of this project will reduce delays and create capacity to enable more LNER services to be launched in our new timetable.”
Simon Smith, Managing Director for Morgan Sindall Infrastructure, principal contractor on the project, said: “We’re incredibly proud to have worked closely with Network Rail and our supply chain to deliver the UK’s first curved portal push on the East Coast Main Line Upgrade at Werrington. The portal is a great example of the UK’s leading engineering and innovation expertise, harnessing these skills to enhance passengers’ experiences between London and the north of England.”