THE HISTORIC Settle to Carlisle railway line has been transformed from virtual disrepair into a busy freight line, members of the Railway Civil Engineers Association heard last week.
Railtrack senior project manager Alan Fell explained the history behind the line. The route passes through the sparsely populated area of the Northern Pennines and is best known for its beauty and impressive civil engineering structures, including The Ribblehead viaduct, and Blea Moor tunnel.
The 115km line opened in 1876 and is believed to be the last railway to be built by manpower alone. Around a hundred rail workers were killed during its construction.
Fell explained that a gradual starvation of investment led to proposals to close the line in the late 1980s, until pressure groups helped force a reprieve that was granted in 1989.
An improvement programme was announced last year and work started in September. Construction is due to be completed in March.
First Engineering's strategy manager Craig Goldie explained that the initial renewal work of a three mile section was carried out by Jarvis. Railtrack and First Engineering then entered a design and build partnership to renew a 78km section of the line.
The work involves renewing rails, replacing the existing timber sleepers with steel ones, reballasting, providing a terram drainage system and works.
Goldie said that apart from the unpredictable local weather, the main construction problems have been logistics and communications. Materials are being imported and exported by rail, so supply lines have to be perfectly co-ordinated along the length of the site.
At first, communications were a problem as mobile phones and radios were unable to get a signal.
Fell and Goldie both emphasised that the close working relationship between Railtrack and First Engineering under a shared Institution of Chemical Engineers 'pain gain' contract benefited the project.
Goldie said that freight is returning to the line, mostly coal and gypsum. An estimated 6.5M tonnes will be transported in 2000 which Goldie described as a colossal increase, signifying the rebirth of a mainline.