29 June 2012

Railway landslides in the UK yesterday

Posted by Dave Petley

Yesterday afternoon a set of unusually intense thunderstorms passed across the north of England and Scotland, bringing short duration but very intense rainfall across a wide area.  The result was localised flooding across a wide area and considerable disruption.  Perhaps the greatest impact came on the railways, where a series of landslides has blocked lines.  The impact of these events is best understood with reference to a map of the rail network in northern England and Scotland:

You will see that there are only two main lines north from England to Scotland – the East Coast line from Newcastle-upon-Tyne north through Berwick to Edinburgh and the West Coast line through Carlisle.  Both of these lines have old alignments – much more than a century old (the East Coast line was completed in 1850 for example) – although clearly the tracks themselves and associated services are much more modern.  However, it does mean that the lines have a legacy of old earthworks, which in turn means that despite very considerable investment by the track operator Network Rail they are sometimes vulnerable to small-scale failures during heavy rainfall.  Unfortunately the intense rainfall events passed across both lines, and was sufficient to trigger landslides that closed both tracks.

On the West Coast mainline there were a number of landslides on the line between Carlisle and Oxenholme – Network Rail tweeted two images of the problems:

On the East Coast line, a landslide occurred near to Berwick-Upon-Tweed – again Network Rail tweeted two images of the landslide:

This morning the West Coast line is open, but the East Coast line remains closed for repairs until tomorrow.

In addition, there were landslides in a number of places on lines in Scotland.  The most serious incident appears to have been at Tulloch on the West Highland Line, where a 24 coach train derailed by another landslide.  Fortunately the driver was not injured.  Network Rail have yet to release any images of that event, which presumably will be investigated by the Rail Accident Investigation Board.