New technology to give rail workers an extra 66 days a year to carry out vital work

Network Rail is preparing to rollout new cutting-edge technology across one of the busiest and most congested parts of the railway that will enable workers to carry out critical overnight maintenance and renewal work for extended periods in the year.

The extra hours - equal to 66 days a year – should mean the South Western Railway route becomes more reliable, with fewer delays for passengers.

Known as ‘faster safer isolations’, the technology allows for a more efficient, safer way to turn off the power on the railway line. It brings an end to the outdated and laborious practice of ‘manual strapping’ which typically requires two people having to walk out onto the live railway line, carrying more than 30kg of kit.

The new approach requires one person to drive out to a local control panel, away from the live railway, and operate a series of switches. Currently, around 2,500 work hours a year are spent doing manual strapping on this part of the railway.

Not only will the innovation reduce time needed on manual strapping, it will be hugely beneficial for the safety of workers by keeping them off live railway for longer. More than 20 members of Network Rail staff are injured each year when using the traditional manual strapping method to turn off the power.

Becky Lumlock, route managing director for Network Rail’s Wessex route, said: “The window of time where our track staff are able to work on the railway overnight is one of the shortest in Britain, with the last and first train times on a weekday night of typically 1:00am and 4:30am. This incredible time saving technology will allow us to be more productive in this short window so we can carry out more vital maintenance work on our railway, giving our passengers more reliable journeys.”

The technology has already been successfully trialled in the Guildford area and is now being rolled out across the network. More than 450 of the devices required for this technology will be installed by March next year, with a further 400 to be installed over the coming three years.

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