First journey on Ipswich Chord signals a move forward for the UK’s rail network

The eagerly-anticipated Ipswich Chord has moved a step closer to completion after the first train rolled over the tracks in week 48 of the project.

Spencer Rail was commissioned by Network Rail to build a stretch of track close to Ipswich Good Yard, linking the East Suffolk Line and the Great Eastern Main Line, which will provide essential connection to freight destinations to the north of Ipswich and ease congestion for passenger and freight services.

Now, after months of intensive engineering work, the project is on target to be completed by the end of the month.

The movement on the Ipswich Chord which, when completed, will increase freight capacity to allow a maximum of 24 intermodal freight trains per day to use the tracks in each direction between Ipswich and Peterborough, signals a huge step forward for the UK’s strategic freight network upgrade project.

The final three stages of commissioning will take place in Weeks 50/51/52, with the first freight service due to run on the chord on Monday, March 31.

Danny Lane, Spencer Rail’s project director for the Ipswich Chord, spoke proudly of the company’s achievement.

“Spencer Rail has provided first class multi-disciplinary engineering work on Britain’s railways and across many other sectors,” he said.

“On this project we were delighted to link up with Network Rail for what will prove to be a significant step towards updating the UK’s freight network and transport infrastructure as a whole.”

Network Rail’s plan to upgrade the capacity of the cross-country route from Felixstowe to Nuneaton, via Ely, Peterborough and Leicester, was given a major boost by the Secretary of State in 2012.

Felixstowe is Britain’s biggest container port, with more than 40 per cent of the country’s containerised trade passing through it.

Currently, trains to and from Felixstowe are forced to make a diversion on the busy Great Eastern Main Line, or turn around in sidings north of Ipswich Goods Yard to use the shorter cross-country-Felixstowe route. Both of these alternatives are operationally inefficient.

The Ipswich Chord will cut journey times by at least 30 minutes and the increased capacity on the railway will mean there will be 750,000 fewer lorries on the roads. This will be a huge relief for commuters on the congested A14.

The creation of the Ipswich Chord was a major undertaking which presented Spencer Rail with a number of unique challenges, including:

  • ·         Construction of a 450m of retaining wall adjacent to an operational railway and third party business.
  • ·         Construction of the retaining wall over an existing sewer and third party services.
  • ·         Construction of two bridges over a river and one bridge over a live highway.
  • ·         Working in conjunction with a Development Consent Order and a number of third party interfaces.
  • ·         Highly challenging programme constraints and limited disruptive possession access.
  • ·         Environmental and ecological constraints.

The successful delivery of the project has required a number of unique solutions during the construction period.

Two notable success areas included more frequent and detailed stakeholder communication and a full, collaborative working relationship with Network Rail.

Mr Lane said: “The approach taken by everybody on this project, regardless of whom they worked for, was to get the project built safely and successfully rather than worry about protecting each company’s interests.

“The collaborative relationship with Network Rail has provided an ideal environment for us to find joint solutions to problems on site, for resolving commercial issues and for managing risk. Both teams have played an equal part in making this a success.

“This has been a significantly challenging project, but one that has been enjoyable to work on due to the relationship with the client.”

The Spencer Rail team also consulted closely with community groups, holding a number of drop-in sessions at Ipswich Town Hall to keep residents informed on the progress of the project.

The scale of the Ipswich Chord project

The sheer scale of the Ipswich Chord is easier to appreciate when presented with the facts and figures of the project. Here is just a selection:

  •  ·         Creating a new 250,000 tonne embankment.
  •  ·         Laying almost two miles of new track.
  •  ·         Installing 28 new OLE structures to facilitate the chords constructions.
  •  ·         New signalling interlocking.
  •  ·         36 new FSP and signalling LOCs.
  •  ·         Nine new signals.
  •  ·         Creating a new 350-metre-long retaining wall alongside the existing Great Eastern Main Line.
  •  ·         Installing three new Type E bridges.
  •  ·         Providing of a new subway facility for EA and NR access.
  •  ·         Installing two double-junctions, in modular format – the first of their type on the network.

Five Day Christmas Blockade – challenges around the bridge slide

The winter of 2013/14 was confirmed as having some of the worst storms on record and Spencer Rail completed vital work between December 24 and 30, 2013, in some of the most challenging conditions imaginable.

During this time, the engineering team successfully demolished and removed the old steel bridge, weighing 190 tonnes, over the River Gipping.

This involved breaking the bridge into three sections with the use of a 1,000-tonne crane.

The team then installed a new steel deck bridge, lifting concrete walls into place with cranes.

Further work over the festive period included removing the existing railway track and ballast and installing tracks and junctions for the new chord, linking the East Suffolk Line and the London Liverpool Street to Norwich line.