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  • Maintenance and engineering work

    Our work can be noisy, but we try hard to keep noise and disruption to a minimum

  • Maintenance is the general day-to-day upkeep of the railway such as looking after tracks, signals and power supplies.

    Engineering work is larger scale projects such as track replacement.

    When we took over the running of the railway in October 2002, we faced a huge backlog of work. We have been working since to upgrade or replace much of the infrastructure and have significantly improved the safety and reliability of the railway.

    Noise and disruption

    We use a range of measures to minimise noise and disruption from our work:

    • We requiring our employees and contractors to behave considerately towards people who live and work near the railway: see employee and contactor behaviour.
    • Lighting and generators are placed away from homes, where possible.
    • We use silenced equipment where possible.

    However some essential work, such as tamping (see right) is unavoidably noisy.

    Advance notice

    If the work is near residential areas, we aim to send letters to local people 10 days before the work begins explaining what we plan to do and when we expect to start and finish.

    When a large engineering project is planned, we also tell local authorities and other community representatives such as members of parliament and local councillors.

    For maintenance work, which ranges from emergency repairs to general up-keep, it isn't possible for us to contact local residents before work starts. This is because we're working every day and night of the year, making it impractical to give notice to everyone who may be affected.

    Planning and scheduling work

    The railway network - over 20,000 miles of track, 40,000 bridges and tunnels and 6,300 level crossings - is in operation 24-hours a day, 365 days a year.

    We have to work on the infrastructure all year round so that we can run a safe and reliable rail network for passengers.

    Working at nights and weekends

    We do most of our work on the tracks at night and at week-ends to minimise disruption to passengers and keep our workers safe.

    In fact, we are required by law to close a railway line before we work on it.

    Rescheduling work is difficult: Line closures and restrictions must be planned and agreed with the passenger and freight train companies many months ahead. Individual works are usually part of a more complex programme, so any changes to scheduling may affect the other parts.

    There are enormous demands on our maintenance and engineering staff. Each team works on several projects so their work needs to be planned properly with consideration for their welfare; for example, it is not easy for a team to suddenly change from doing night shifts to day shifts.

    More information

    For links to information about timetable changes and scheduled work, see engineering work and service alterations.

    Employee and contractor behaviour
    Noise and vibration
    Our plan for rail in Britain - improvement projects list

  • Contact us

    If you have a concern or question, call our 24-hour helpline:

    03457 11 41 41

    or contact us online

  • Tamping

    Track is made up of three parts: metal rails, sleepers that sit under the rails, and ballast - crushed rock that forms a bed for the sleepers.

    For track to function properly, sleepers must sit firmly in the ballast. When track has been heavily used or has been re-laid, we need to remove any gaps in the ballast so that the sleepers don't move as trains pass, allowing them to run smoothly and reducing noise and vibration.

    To remove the gaps we use tamping machines: They're the size of a normal railway engine and sit on the tracks vibrating the ballast with hydraulic 'fingers' to remove all the gaps.

    Unfortunately tamping machines are very noisy. They also trigger the alarms used to warn workers of approaching trains. Sometimes, we need to use two or more tampers and other equipment at the same time.

    Tamping machines cover about one mile on a job, which means that they can pass by the homes and business of thousands of people. Most tamping has to be done at night to avoid disrupting train services. Usually, this affects our neighbours for one or two nights.

    We are not always able to notify people who may be affected as tamping is routine maintenance that takes place every day and night of the year.