South London rail tunnel closure set to start to allow track replacement work

Almost 4km of rail tracks and ballast will be replaced in Penge Tunnel by contractor Colas during a nine day route closure which starts tomorrow (Saturday 23 July).

The £5M of work on the 2km long tunnel, between Brixton and Beckenham Junction, aims to improve train service reliability but the longer closure aims to minimise disruption for passengers. Much of the track, ballast and sleepers in the tunnel date date back to the 1970s.

According to Network Rail, implementing a line closure means the work on the Victorian-era tunnel, which was said to be Queen Victoria’s least favourite (see box), can be carried out in half the time compared to undertaking it over a series of weekend closures.

Network Rail Kent route director Fiona Taylor said: “This will be a challenging task as the tunnel is over a mile long, but the benefits will mean less maintenance will be needed in future as the track and components will be newer, meaning fewer faults and smoother, more reliable journeys for passengers.

“We recognise this work can be disruptive to passengers and those living alongside the railway and that’s why we’ve tried to fit in other maintenance tasks within the nine-day railway closure so that it causes less disruption and is more cost effective.

“By taking a full nine days, we will significantly reduce overall disruption to passengers, as the alternative to this approach would be five weekends of closure in addition to two separate Sundays.”

The work on the tunnel is due to be completed on 31 July with the route reopening to passenger services on Monday 1 August.


Penge Tunnel: We are not amused

The Penge Tunnel, which was built using 33M bricks fired on site from clay excavated for the tunnel, was opened in 1863 as part of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. However, the feat of engineering was not popular with Queen Victoria, who was the first monarch to travel by train.

Queen Victoria, reportedly, disliked travelling through tunnels and the length of the Penge Tunnel made it particularly unpopular with her. In fact the queen’s dislike of tunnels is one of the main reasons why an overground route was built via Catford to allow travel from Bromley to Victoria without passing through the Penge Tunnel.

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