Network Rail’s work to electrify the Great Western Main Line has reached two important milestones as the company announces a section of the line is to be ‘energised’ for the first time and its flagship Electrification Training Centre in Swindon is officially opened.
As part of Network Rail’s Railway Upgrade Plan to provide a bigger, better, more reliable railway for passengers, the company is electrifying the Great Western Main Line in preparation for the arrival of a new fleet of longer, faster, quieter and greener electric trains.
The work and the opening of the training centre takes place in a significant year for Swindon as it celebrates 175 years since the Great Western Railway Company agreed to build its locomotive repair workshops in the town.
The section of the main line that runs between Reading and Didcot now has the majority of the overhead line equipment installed, including the wires that carry the high voltage electricity to power the electric trains. Once complete, this section of track will be used to test the new electric trains.
Reaching this important milestone means members of the public should treat all overhead line equipment, whether it looks complete or not, as electrified. To make sure everyone is prepared for this change, Network Rail is carrying out a safety awareness programme that over the last few months has included extensive engagement activities at community events, schools and colleges.
Mark Langman, Network Rail’s managing director for the Western route, said: “This marks a really important milestone in our work to upgrade Brunel’s railway. For the first time a major section of the Great Western Main Line will soon have a fully functioning overhead power supply, enabling us to start testing the new electric trains.
“As safety is our highest priority, it’s very important the public know how to keep themselves and others safe around this new equipment which is why we are carrying out an extensive awareness campaign.”
The news came at the opening of the £10m state-of-the-art Electrification Training Centre in Swindon, which features the overhead line equipment, in every configuration, on a section of track not connected to the main line. This enables Network Rail’s engineering ‘orange army’ to learn how to install and maintain the new system in a safe environment.
Mark continued: “Swindon has a proud railway heritage and so it seems very fitting that in celebrating its 175th anniversary as a railway town this state-of-the-art centre has opened. This centre will train our future railway engineers, ensuring Swindon remains at the heart of the Great Western Railway for generations to come.
“The opening of the Electrification Training Centre, together with the completion of a major part of our electrification programme means communities in the Thames Valley, south west and west are a step closer to the benefits that electrification will bring. These include faster trains with more seats and more legroom, and less noise and cleaner air for those who live close to the railway.”
Justin Tomlinson, MP for North Swindon, said: “I was very excited to attend the opening of the Electrification Training Centre. This opening will bring more jobs and will eventually mean greater connections to London and the south west.
“Swindon is a town on the up which continues to expand and attract more investment. This centre is a crucial part of our growth and what better way to mark 175 years of the Great Western Railway.”
Robert Buckland QC, MP for South Swindon, said: “With its proud railway past, Swindon was the obvious choice for the headquarters of this huge scheme and I am delighted to have been at the opening of the Electrification Training Centre.
“I worked hard to campaign for the electrification of the Great Western Main Line, which will transform the railway and provide Britain with a sustainable, world-class transport system. The project to electrify the Great Western Main Line is one obvious example of increasing investment in Swindon. In effect, our town is the nerve centre of the project, and also houses all of the material and equipment.”
Pictured top, centre, Justin Tomlinson MP and Robert Buckland MP at the opening of the training centre with Mark Langman, Network Rail Route Managing Director, Western and Robbie Burns, Regional Director, Infrastructure Projects (Crossrail and Western). Above and below, training of staff who work on the electrification of the Great Western Main Line. All photos by Richard Wintle of Calyx