Network Rail has introduced so-called “formation flying” engineering trains which will save an estimated £250,000 per week in costs by allowing trains to run at higher speeds once engineering is complete.
Network Rail said that passenger journeys could often be disrupted in the week after major track upgrades as trains must travel over freshly laid track at restricted speed while ballast settles and forms a solid foundation.
It said that this led to it having to pay compensation to the train operators for the financial impact of the disruption.
In a bid to reduce the delays, the rail owner said that it was trialling the new engineering trains to repair and renew the 32,000km of railway track it is responsible for maintaining.
It said that the technique had been successfully used at Sandy, Bedfordshire, on a set of railway switches and crossings which were being replaced as part of the railway upgrade plan.
As part of the new system, a pair of engineering trains are connected by an umbilical cable and run in parallel to simultaneously deliver tamping and dynamic track stabilisation (DTS) to the track. This simulates the equivalent of 200 trains passing over the tracks consecutively, bedding in the new track and allowing passenger trains to start using the railway at speeds as high as 200km/h as soon as engineering works are complete.
Network Rail programme director for track Steve Featherstone said: “We monitored the work at Sandy during the weekend and had progressive assurance throughout to make sure we built everything to the highest possible quality levels. This allowed trains to run at 200km/h right away – the first time we’ve achieved this on a crossing.”
This, said Network Rail, meant it avoided thousands of pounds in compensation payments.
The news comes a year after Network Rail’s first successes with 200km/h ‘high speed handbacks’ in January 2016 on ‘regular’ plain line track.
Network Rail said it estimated that over £5M had already been saved by avoiding compensation payments since the start of the ‘high speed handback’ programme.
“Our high speed handback journey started three years ago,” said Featherstone. ”We have been continually improving, systematically getting better at every aspect of what we do. We have progressively built the knowledge and competence to handback plain line, high output and switches and crossing renewals at 200km/h, which will save Network Rail hundreds of thousands of pounds in reduced fees to train operators for disruption caused.
“Ultimately this is about passengers. Our new techniques mean we can handback the railway safely, on time and with no speed restrictions meaning passengers get to their destination on time and as planned.”