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Rail earthworks condition to fall despite over 16% rise in investment

Investment in earthworks structures on the UK rail network looks set to rise to £793M in control period 6 (CP6), up 16.7% from the current control period.

Despite the increase in investment revealed yesterday as Network Rail published its strategic business plan for 2019 to 2024, many of the eight regions have warned that asset condition will not improve during CP6 because of the level of failures seen during the current period.

The rise in investment is also still subject to approval by industry regulator, Office of Road and Rail.

“This is an ambitious but realistic plan that is not without challenge, but with great people working together in great teams, it can deliver the better railway that a better Britain needs,” said Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne.

aerial view of eden brows. settle line running above the river eden.

Failures such Eden Brows in CP5 diverted funds away from planned scheme, which have been deferred to CP6 and has impacted on delivery of earthworks condition improvements in the next control period

Figures released as part of the business plan show that spending on geotechnical projects will fall nationally in the next financial year, which is part of CP5, to £75.6M down from £110M in the current financial year. Investment in earthworks will rise sharply in 2019/20 to £163M as the rail industry enters the CP6 funding period and is set to remain high throughout, only dropping to £129M in 2023/24 at the end of the funding period.

Despite the increase in funding none of the eight regions are expecting to see an improvement in asset condition during CP6, and several are expecting a fall in the condition of asset.

The regional reports for a number of regions cite the level of failures seen during CP5 resulting in planned work being delayed until CP6 as the cause for the decline in condition. The London North West region experienced major failures at Eden Brows, the Harbury Cutting and Watford during CP5.

Improvements in asset condition are not likely in the long term either – the report for Wales suggests that a 13% rise in asset condition will not be seen until CP12, while others have said that a return to CP5 levels of funding in CP7 would result in further decline.

Many of the plans put in place for earthworks in CP6 focus on maintenance rather than refurbishment and renewal with greater investment in instrumentation and monitoring to provide more insight into developing failures.

Earthworks spending region by region under CP5 and CP6 (£M)

North Eastern
and Midlands
2014/15 14 42 12 22 20.7 4.6 14.1 33.2 162.6
2015/16 14 55 13 21 24.6 10.7 11.4 25.4 175.1
2016/17 1 49.7 29 22 12.7 13 7.4 20.8 155.6
2017/18 2 19.2 23 21 10.4 9.4 10 15.2 110.2
2018/19 2 15.9 12 23 5.6 4.6 4.4 8.1 75.6
CP5 total 33 181.8 89 109 74 42.3 47.2 102.8 679.1
2019/20 12 35.5 18 26 25.7 12 11.8 22.1 163.1
2020/21 12 38.8 24 32 31.7 11 15.1 18.9 183.5
2021/22 14 28.4 22 32 26.6 11 15.9 19.2 169.1
2022/23 9 31 14 29 21.3 9 16.8 18.7 148.8
2023/24 3 16.3 29 29 11.7 6 15.8 18.7 129.5
CP6 total 50 150.1 105 149 117 49 75.4 97.5 793


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