Report by James Cracknell
A railway line closed since last June is set to re-open following engineering work – but a series of blunders mean it must close again in the near future.
The London Overground line between Gospel Oak and Barking, including four stations in the borough used by 7,000 passengers daily, will re-open on 27th February but still need to be closed for several more weekends and another indefinite period later this year.
This comes after a number of problems arose during the work to electrify the line that will eventually, in 2018, mean longer trains can be introduced to double its capacity.
Among the major gaffes during the eight-month engineering works were ‘incorrectly designed’ new overhead lines that couldn’t be installed at the planned locations, as well as the late delivery of materials and structures. It is also understood that a sewer pipe was pierced during the installation of an overhead pylon in Walthamstow, requiring pumps to be wheeled along the track to clear up the mess.
Network Rail’s route managing director Richard Schofield issued an apology after admitting to the errors. He said: “I sincerely apologise to passengers that we have not been able to complete all of the work in the time we set out, and for the future disruption we will cause to their journeys.
“I have instructed the project team to quickly deliver a robust plan to finish the work before new trains arrive next year, and passengers can be reassured that the line will reopen later this month to diesel trains as planned. A full review into what went wrong has already begun.
“I recognise also that we will further inconvenience those living next to the railway line, I apologise and thank them for their continued patience while we complete our work to enable new electric trains to run next year.”
A schedule is being finalised for the completion of the remaining engineering work, but is expected to include weekend closures for several weeks, followed by another full closure in the summer.
The work so far has involved upgrading ten bridges and the lowering of platforms at Walthamstow Queen’s Road. Although not yet finished, Blackhorse Road Station is also getting new lifts to enable step-free access.
While Network Rail is delivering the upgrade, it is being funded by Transport for London and the Government and was expected to cost £133million – though this may now rise because of the unexpected problems with electrification.
Glenn Wallis, secretary of the Barking Gospel Oak Rail Users’ Group (BGORUG), said: “With rail replacement buses that missed out half the stations and limited refund arrangements, passengers have been left to largely fend for themselves [during the closure]. Now we learn that although trains are to start running again, passengers’ pain is far from over.”