Six-week maintenance for Severn Tunnel

Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group

Home » Six-week maintenance for Severn Tunnel

Published: 5th September 2016

This Article was Written by: Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group


From 12 September to 21 October the Severn Tunnel will be shut for work to enable Hitachi electric trains to be put into operation from 2017. The tunnel is the UK’s longest railway tunnel, linking South Gloucestershire to Monmouthshire in South Wales, and has acted as a commercial and domestic lifeline between England and Wales for more than one hundred years. The essential maintenance, although inconvenient for businesses and commuters alike, has been described as ‘significant’ – cutting journey times and increasing the route’s freight carrying capabilities in the long term.

Route managing director for Network Rail Wales, Paul McMahon, stated: “Without a six-week closure, it could take up to five years to complete the upgrade, causing long-term disruption for passengers.” To date, Network Rail have overseen several short closures to carry out preparatory work. This has significantly reduced the length of the current closure.

Area director for Network Rail Wales, Dan Tipper, urged ‘people to plan their journey ahead’.

He added: “Wales is open to passengers and freight traffic during the upgrade work yet this iconic project will result in short-term disruption.”

He iterated that, “Electrifying the railway to Cardiff by 2019 had significant long-term benefits such as faster, more frequent trains and a boost to economic growth in South Wales.”

Welsh rail lines still open despite tunnel closure

As Dan Tipper stated, it’s important to plan ahead. In order to negotiate the six-week hiatus it may be worth noting some of the following diversions and travel solutions:

  • Buses will substitute trains between Severn Tunnel Junction and Bristol Parkway and Bristol Parkway and Newport adding around 45 minutes to the normal journey time.
  • The direct route between Bristol and South Wales may be unavailable while the tunnel closure is in place but Newport, Cardiff and westwards will remain rail-connected with trains running via Gloucester and Chepstow, plus a rail-replacement bus service.
  • Portsmouth to Cardiff services will operate between Bristol Parkway and Portsmouth Harbour.
  • Trains from Portsmouth and Taunton to Cardiff will be affected.
  • Travellers from Paddington, Reading, Didcot or Swindon to South Wales will be diverted via Gloucester. This may add around 30 minutes to the journey time. Trains will be running on an hourly basis with another train each hour running to Bristol Parkway.
  • Services to the Southwest will run from Bristol Parkway to Taunton.
  • Trains to Weston-Super-Mare that would normally start/terminate at Bristol Parkway will start from Filton Abbey Wood instead.

A potted history of the tunnel

The Severn Tunnel, or Twnnel Hafren as it’s known in its native Wales, was constructed but the Great Western Railway and has a fascinating history. The undisputed longest rail tunnel in the UK for over a century, it relinquished the title in 2007 when the two HS1 rail tunnels linking London with the Channel Tunnel went into operation. Other interesting facts about the tunnel include:

  • In 1872 an Act of Parliament was initiated to acquire powers to construct; from this the Severn Tunnel was optioned.
  • The tunnel was completed by August 1884 and on 17 October 1884 the two headings met and the brickwork lining completed in April 1885.
  • On the 9th January 1886 the first train ran through the tunnel carrying coal.
  • On the 1st December that year passenger trains started to run through the tunnel.
  • In 1887, 7,776 trains used the tunnel carrying 241,778 wagons while 30 years later these numbers were 23,122 trains and 1,085,892 wagons respectively.
  • The tunnel reduced the original London to Cardiff route by 15 miles and it made the Exeter to Cardiff route 95 miles shorter.
  • 77 million bricks and 37,000 tons of Portland cement were used to create the tunnel lining.
  • The tunnel is 4.3 miles long.
  • The tunnel’s interior measures 24.5 feet high and 26 feet wide.
  • Upon completion the tunnel had cost just under £2million.

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