Railway repairs are right on track

Reporter Laura Button visited the site of the Marley Farm landslip to see how repair work was progressing:

IT’S pouring with rain and I’m struggling to negotiate my way along a slippery railway line, weighed down with safety gear, with a photographer in tow who looks like he would rather be anywhere else.

Network Rail contractors carry out work on the landslip site at Battle. 14/2/14

Network Rail contractors carry out work on the landslip site at Battle. 14/2/14

This is not how I envisaged spending my Valentine’s Day.

But for the men and women of Network Rail and their contractors, this was just another day at the office.

The relentlessly cheerful team of 35 contractors from Murphys are currently battling the elements in a bid to fix the damage caused by a recent landslip on the line at Marley Farm, Battle.

Friday saw the delivery of 3,000 tonnes of stone to the site in a bid to shore up the crumbling Victorian embankment.

A further 10,000 tonnes is destined for another landslip site at Whatlington Viaduct.

The material for Whatlington would have been transported up the line from Battle and down the line from Wadhurst.

Except a landslip at Stonegate, when ground beneath the track gave way, put paid to that plan.

And as the rain continues, there could be more to come.

Usually landslips are not a major issue for Network Rail, with the company experiencing just two or three a year in Kent (which includes the Sussex stations between Hastings and Frant).

But since the beginning of 2014, 40 incidents have been reported - 10 of those on the Hastings to London line.

Network Rail estimates it may cost the organisation as much as £15million to fix these 40 sites.

The Hastings to London line is expected to open on March 3 - weather depending, of course.

But another reason the work is taking a while is because Network Rail is trying to avoid a ‘quick fix’ solution.

Route managing director Fiona Taylor said: “If we had done emergency works, undoubtedly we could have done it quicker.

“But we are doing permanent works at this site (Marley Farm) so it does not cause us trouble in the future.”

Network Rail previously had concerns about potential for a landslip at the Battle site .

The site was being monitored, along with a number of others in the region.

Contractors are working on site at Battle and Stonegate 24 hours a day in a bid to meet the March deadline.

But as Fiona tells me, it is very much a team effort, from the local farmer who allowed the team access to the site via his land to the train operator which has been on the receiving end of passengers’ fury and frustration.

Fiona said: “Southeastern are working incredibly hard to make sure the bus service works effectively.

“They have brought in extra bus services and extra people to work at their stations.”

Fiona added: “We have been briefing MPs, particularly the MP for Hastings, on our plans.

“It’s very much a team effort to get this dealt with as quickly and safely as we can.”

As the assorted journalists and camera crews trudged back up the line towards Battle station following the brief tour, you couldn’t help feel for the team that are out there working hard in all weathers.

And the way they all manage to keep smiling while facing the wrath of Mother Nature and angry commuters is something to be applauded.