‘Spider’ excavators move the earth to protect key Midlands rail route

Work is now complete to protect the West Coast main line from landslips to provide more reliable journeys for rail passengers between Wolverhampton and Stafford.

A £5m investment by Network Rail has seen engineers move thousands of tonnes of earth to secure 1.3km of the railway south of Penkridge.

The improved embankments and cuttings are located on a branch of the West Coast main line, one of the most important railway corridors in the country.


Large stretches of sloped lineside have been re-profiled with new stone to make it more stable, and slope gradients have been reduced.

More than 11,000 tonnes of earth was removed during the protection project and 19,000 tonnes of new stone was laid.

Because of the steep locations, specialist ‘spider’ excavators have been used to carry out the work.

Andrew Walker, project manager at Network Rail, said: “This major project will allow us to deliver more reliable journeys for millions of rail passengers and freight goods in future. Even though passengers won’t interact directly with the areas improved, it’s their journeys that feel the impact when movements underground pose a risk to the railway above.

“We want to make sure the railway network is in the best shape as winter approaches for the increasing number of passengers returning to rail travel following the pandemic.” 

Landslips can happen for numerous reasons; from animals burrowing underground, sustained periods of wet weather or the unique geology on which the railway is built.

Between Wolverhampton and Stafford, netting has been installed along 170m of slope to prevent burrowing rabbits destabilising the embankments and cuttings.

Work has taken place during the daytime while passenger and freight services continued to run, meaning no disruption to train services and no noisy overnight work impacting residents.  

Lawrence Bowman, customer experience director for London Northwestern Railway, said: “Our services on the West Coast main line provide millions of passenger journeys every year and these important works will significantly reduce the likelihood of unnecessary delays. 

“This project is another great example of the rail industry doing all we can to ensure smooth journeys for passengers as increasing numbers of people continue returning to the railway.” 

The major improvements started in November 2020 meaning the earth-moving work took a total of 11 months to carry out.  

For more information on how Network Rail carries out this type of project visit www.networkrail.co.uk/earthworks-cutting-slopes-and-embankments.

Photo credit: Network Rail

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