RAIL MAINTENANCE contractors face months of disruption to trackside work because of restrictions on plant access imposed during the escalating foot and mouth epidemic.
Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries & Food officials have shut down rural maintenance sites across the country to stop site workers and equipment spreading the disease.
They have told contractors they will not be allowed to restart work until affected areas have been clear of the disease for 60 days. This week there was no sign that the epidemic was easing.
McAlpine Rail has had sites at Lydney and Westerleigh near Bristol closed. Project manager Phil Bostock said the affected contracts were embankment maintenance works.
'The main problem is getting muck off site, ' said Bostock, pointing out that men and light plant can get access by road and rail vehicles.
A spokesman for Amey rail said it was also having problems accessing sites next to farmland in Devon and the Chilterns.
Amey has been keeping detailed records of staff movements in case agriculture officials need to track where and when staff have been working. Staff working in infected areas are not allowed on to agricultural land for three days.
Contractors working on the West Coast Main Line have been instructed on the precautions to be taken and which disinfectant should be used. It has also posted alerts in site cabins.
WCML track alliance comprising Jarvis and Railtrack has also imposed a 3km exclusion zone around farms with foot and mouth.
Contracting staff have been told only to enter farms between 8km and 12km from an infected area for essential utility works.
In this case they must seek local authority approval.
'We are going to great lengths to keep the faith of farmers. We have an ongoing relationship as we regularly have to rent land from them, ' said a spokesperson for the alliance. 'We have to show sensitivity.'
Heavy rainfall and high water tables have hampered efforts to find burial sites for livestock, the Government said this week.
Saturated soil has left few areas in which burial would not pose a risk.
MAFF said Environment Agency regulations demand that ashes must not be buried where there is any chance of them polluting local watercourses or groundwater.
A MAFF spokesman said that in Cumbria - one of the areas worst hit by foot and mouth - 'pits have to give a minimum of 2m of topsoil cover and be away from any watercourse or borehole, in order to get assurances from the Environment Agency.'
'As the water tables have been high it has been an onerous task getting those assurances, ' he said.
Carillion and some of its supply chain has been digging pits in the Cumbria and Northumbria, as well as sourcing and transporting materials to fuel pyres for burning carcasses before they are buried. Fuel materials include coal, railway sleepers, timber and diesel.
The contractor is also responsible for providing high pressure wheel washing facilities and chemicals for disinfecting lorries as they leave infected farms.
'We've worked on 110 outbreaks so far, ' said a Carillion spokeswoman.
'It's a 24 hour operation, seven days a week.'