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Rail Minister visits Mountfield Tunnel to see Network Rail’s engineering efforts to improve reliability

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Rail Minister Huw Merriman visited Network Rail colleagues today (Wednesday 12 April) to see the progress being made upgrading track and strengthening embankments along this key commuter line between Tunbridge Wells and Hastings.

Fiona Taylor, Network Rail’s Kent route director, hosted the visit during which the Rail Minister joined engineers inside Mountfield Tunnel near Robertsbridge, where worn out track is being replaced.

Inside the tunnel, the existing track slab – a concrete block which supports the track, conductor rail and tunnel structure – is being removed. Built in the 1970s, it needs replacing after 50 years of wear and tear.

A new track slab, reinforced with four tonnes of metal bars, will be installed plus 900 metres of specially coated track, specifically designed to withstand tunnel environments.

Elsewhere on the line, engineers are working tirelessly to complete a number of other vital upgrades, surveys, monitoring, and general maintenance to support the reliable running of the railway.

At Wadhurst and Frant, sections of a reinforced concrete wall will be built to prevent trees and soil reaching the tracks.

On sections of the line near Snape Wood, 230 five-metre-long soil nails will be driven into the cutting with 600m2 of wire mesh to stop material falling onto tracks below.

This is the third and final extended line closure as part of this programme of work in the past two years. Once complete, this work will increase the reliability of this important line, built 170 years ago.

The line is closed from Friday 7 (Good Friday) to Saturday 15 April, during which buses replace Southeastern train services between Tunbridge Wells and Hastings.

Fiona Taylor, Network Rail’s Kent route director, said: “It was a pleasure to welcome the Rail Minister to see first-hand the work we’re doing to improve the reliability of this important line between Tunbridge Wells and Hastings which carries around 120,000 passengers a week between Kent and London.

“It’s a really complex part of the railway which was built in the 1850s along very hilly ground, which meant that the Victorian engineers had to excavate steep cuttings, long tunnels and build miles of embankment. As a result of its age and geographical setting, this stretch of line has required regular repairs and upgrades to maintain its reliability.

“While there is never a good time to shut the railway, completing the work in an extended closure means that we can avoid causing more disruption to customers by having to close the railway over a series of weekends.

“We’d like to thank customers and local residents for their patience and understanding while we carry out these essential works.”

Rail Minister, Huw Merriman, said: “The Hasting to Tunbridge Wells mainline is a key commuter route for those travelling across East Sussex and Kent and I was pleased to see the ongoing work to improve reliability for those passengers.

“From track upgrades to strengthening the embankments, these improvements will deliver a more resilient and dependable rail network for years to come, and I’d like to thank local residents for their patience while these works are carried out.”

Network Rail’s partner for Mountfield Tunnel project was Rhomberg Sersa Rail Group (UK). The firm was awarded the Southern Slab Refurbishment project back in 2020, but planned works were cancelled in October 2022, at Network Rail’s request, to perform emergency works on a short section of concrete slab. This led to the latest stage replacing 500 metres of track, including 250 metres of concrete track slab.

Photo credit: Network Rail

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