Bacon Factory Curve sounds like a quirky old Victorian name for an otherwise insignificant part of the railway infrastructure – probably in the Black Country or around Leeds. But it’s not. Writes Nigel Wordsworth
In fact, it’s brand new. GB Railfreight only ran the first train on it on 24 March this year, prior to it going into full service a week later. It’s not insignificant either. With a total cost of £59 million, it is a major piece of work. Oh, and it’s just outside Ipswich.
So what is it? And where does the Bacon Factory come in?
The new Ipswich Chord is part of the work going on around the country to enhance the rail freight network.
In particular, it forms part of the Felixstowe to Nuneaton scheme which connects Britain’s largest container port with the heart of the Midlands. Half a million containers pass through Felixstowe a year and an increasing number of them travel by rail. 60 train movements a day now connect the port with 17 different inland destinations.
Last year a third rail terminal opened at the port, allowing an even greater number of 30-wagon trains to be able to operate. Containers are also getting bigger. In the past, they were typically 8’6” tall. Now many of them are 9’6”. That extra foot causes problems for the UK’s height-restricted infrastructure. As a result, work is going on around the country to drop trackbeds through bridges and tunnels, or even replace bridges altogether, to increase the clearance.
The Felixstowe to Nuneaton cross- country route was no exception, particularly the section west of Peterborough. This was gauge- enhanced in 2011.
Other work was also needed. Resignalling work was conducted at Kennett, near Bury St Edmunds, and a new chord (or link line) built at Nuneaton, which allowed freight trains to join the West Coast main line using a dedicated track rather than crossing the four existing lines at track level.
No right turn
However, there was still one anomaly which was causing delays and problems. Trains from Felixstowe had to curve left into Ipswich yard and then reverse out onto the Great Eastern main line – there was no way they could just turn right onto it and the convoluted reverse was adding an hour to journey times. So a second new chord was planned to solve this problem.
This 1000 metre link would curve over the River Gipping, connecting the East Suffolk and Great Eastern lines. In fact it would cross the river twice in a long, sweeping arc.
Plans were approved by the Secretary of State for Transport on 5 September 2012. Spencer Rail was appointed as principal contractor and work started in October of the same year. The project would cost £59 million and would be co-financed by the European Union Trans European Transport Network (TEN-T).
The route from Felixstowe approaches Ipswich from the North East along the East Suffolk line which it joined at Westerfield. The existing bridge over the River Gipping marked the start of the new chord, and the bridge itself had to be replaced with a wider structure to accommodate the switches and crossings that would peel the new chord off to the right. Curving across the south bank of the river, the railway crosses the Gipping again and runs parallel to the Great Eastern line for a few hundred yards before joining it. This is to allow freight trains of up to 775 metres long to be accommodated totally within the confines of the chord if required.
Construction took a year and a half. One kilometre of twin-track railway stretches from the new Boss Hall Junction (which is on top of the replaced Boss Hall bridge), back over the river on a second new bridge, over the Sproughton Road (a third bridge) to the new Europa Junction. In addition to Spencer Rail, Jacobs Engineering UK provided consultancy services, Alma Rail supplied the track and Amaro Signalling the lineside equipment and new interlocking.
The curve totally confines an area of the southern riverbank, so a subway had to be included in the design to allow access to this otherwise cut-off area. And the land itself? That was the former site of the Harris Bacon factory – hence the name given to the new chord.