Huge rail investment to combat landslides

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PART of the east coast railway line between Berwick and Edinburgh could be closed while major engineering work is carried out to combat the effects of landslides and flooding.

Network Rail has submitted its new strategic business plan, under which £4.1 billion will be spent on its services up until 2019, to the Office of Rail Regulation.

Of this, £50 million is to be spent on Scottish services, where work is needed to mitigate the risk of landslips and bridge collapses.

The plan sets out the need to ‘future-proof’ critical infrastructure against the impact of changing weather patterns, including more frequent flooding, and to enable more rail traffic by upgrading strategic routes to accommodate bigger freight containers.

It is the transport provider’s response to the government’s High Level Output Specification (HLOS) for rail, published in July.

The embankment at Megs Dub, near Lamberton, was singled out for special attention. The area has seen many land and mudslides disrupt services this winter.

Like much of the track along the Berwickshire coast, it lies on sandstone cliffs which suffer heavy erosion from the sea.

There was also a spectacular trackside landslide at Spittal during heavy rain last year, which saw north and southbound services grind to a halt.

The situation is so serious, on a route that saw many landslides during 2012’s heavy rains, that major engineering work is planned, and rerouting of the tracks might even be required. Similar projects are expected to be required on the main east coast line in areas of East Lothian.

Network Rail’s summary route plan for Scotland described the situation. “The impact of increasingly unpredictable weather patterns and climate change on the running of a safe and efficient railway cannot be underestimated,” it said.

A spokesperson for Network Rail added: “Incidents are rare. However, the consequences of failure can be severe.”

Natural erosion is not the only worry on the line. Network Rail has said that some bridges on its route are so old – dating back to the 1840s like the Royal Border Bridge across the Tweed – that it is impossible to predict quite how they will react to adverse weather or heavy engineering work.

The news of investment comes as rail travel in the borders and north Northumberland is becoming more expensive.

Negotiations between ScotRail and East Coast recently broke down over provision of the cross-border Club 55, meaning that the reduced fare will no longer be offered from Berwick. Passengers could bear the brunt of these disagreements for the foreseeable future, as the two firms signed a franchise extension of three years, from December 2012.

Meanwhile, tentative plans for the introduction of electric trains, which would mean greener transport and shorter journey times were also laid out in the HLOS, but the cross-border tracks are not included in any proposals.