Spencer Rail puts Ipswich Chord project on course for completion

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.

Week 50 of the project has been completed successful and has moved the eagerly-anticipated improvements a step closer to fruition.

The first train rolled over the tracks in week 48 of the project, signalling a major move forward in the project. The progression has now gathered more pace after Spencer Rail singed off week 50’s work.

Ipswich Chord week 50

LTN Lines:

  • Installation of Europa Junction 1383 and 1384pts & 1385’s (4 point ends) and sub-formation treatment
  • Cut in TC detection and Wheels free

ESK Lines:

  • Signalling Commissioning of new Interlocking
  • Panel Changes in Colchester Box for the Chord
  • Installation and commissioning of new signals on the ESK lines
  • New PIIU and TD
  • Modification to the override function


  • De-wire the Shunt spur and ESK run offs

Spencer Rail Project Director Danny Lane said: “Our teams have been working hard to ensure the Ipswich Chord project is completed on time, while minimising the impact to rails users.

“The work we carried out in week 50 of the project was some of the most challenging throughout the process but our teams used their expertise and knowledge to make sure everything went smoothly.

“The project has been a huge undertaking but we are now putting the final pieces in place in preparation for the completion date at the end of March.

“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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.