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Case Study - Rail: Central Rail Systems Alliance

Location: Kirby Tunnel, Northamptonshire

Division: Rail

Client: CRSA

Project Overview

For years the Kilsby Tunnel in Northamptonshire has been disrupting services on the West Coast mainline. Drainage problems necessitating a temporary speed restriction, limiting trains that are meant to be travelling at 120mph through the tunnel to just 50mph, have impacted passengers and operations alike.

The COVID-19 crisis has meant a reduced number of trains operating across the UK. Colleagues in Balfour Beatty’s Rail business, working with Network Rail as the Central Rail Systems Alliance (CRSA), saw a less busy railway as an opportunity. And, with increased access to the railway, the CRSA could finally produce a plan to improve this stretch of track.

Normally this level of planning would take at least a year but knowing how key this work is to the route’s performance, our team worked tirelessly to create a plan that was both safe and deliverable. A task of this calibre would be difficult in ‘normal’ circumstances, so with the added constraints of COVID-19 special measures and social distancing, receiving approval to undertake the works is a fantastic achievement.

Scope of work

Vital supplied considerable levels of resource across the 14-day blockade from Site Supervisors, Engineering Supervisors, Tunnel Attendants, Machine and Crane Controllers to other Safety Critical resource and skilled track and drainage operatives.

Works included drain and track renewals within the tunnel. The track possession is approximately 20 miles as a diversion is in place, so the opportunity is being taken to deliver works in the area surrounding the tunnel in tandem with major improvements taking place between Rugby and Milton Keynes.

The drain and track renewals work will improve future journeys on Europe’s busiest mixed-use passenger and freight railway line, stopping tracks in the Kilsby Tunnel flooding during bad weather and making this key section of the West Coast main line more reliable for passengers and freight. The speed restrictions will be removed, and trains will be able to travel safely at full speed once more.


The job was delivered safely and with full compliance to newly issued Covid-19 Standard Operating Procedures. HSE and Management presence at agreed stages throughout the project. Vital worked closely with CRSA site management, plant and tool suppliers and alongside other rail labour suppliers to deliver a ‘One Team’ approach to project delivery.

HSE Reports

Feedback summary from independent audits by Vital HSE advisors found a well-run site, conscious of working under COVID-19 circumstances with ample social distancing and all the necessary facilities for staff. All Vital vehicles were correctly filled with social distancing inside and some of our workers arrived in their personal vehicles.

All operatives attending site adhered to the CP003 policy with those who did travel together sharing the same postcode. All operatives in attendance during visits were approachable and understood why the procedures were in place and what was required from them during their shift. The site supervisors/managers were very approachable and completely comfortable with visitors attending site.

"A well-run site with Covid 19 procedures in place throughout which were clearly advised/identified."

Jane Hepburn, Vital HSE Advisor