A huge railway junction repair was completed in record time on the Chiltern main line after a major fault was found on a vital section of track.

The scale of the defect was identified during a routine inspection last Tuesday (3 November) of a 44 metre long ‘switch’ – which allows trains to move from one track to another – at Aynho Junction near Banbury. Thanks to swift action, meticulous planning and delivery, it was fixed in less than 12 hours on Saturday night (7 November).

The junction connects the Chiltern main line with the Cherwell Valley line between Banbury and Oxford, and is heavily used by Chiltern Railways and CrossCountry as well as freight operators including Freightliner, DB Cargo and GB Railfreight.

The severity of the fault meant an immediate 20mph emergency speed restriction was put in place and a full repair had to be carried out within seven days – or run the risk of the line potentially having to close for safety reasons.

In just four days, Network Rail’s Central route and the wider rail industry developed and delivered a plan to repair the issue – the scale and speed of which had not been attempted previously by the teams involved. Banbury’s maintenance unit, Network Rail’s supply chain operation and the Central Rail Systems Alliance (CRSA) – made up of Network Rail, Balfour Beatty, Atkins and TSO – joined forces to make the repairs and fully reopen the railway.

Two huge Kirow cranes – operated by Volker Rail which work directly from the railway tracks – were moved to site by Freightliner and used to lift the 6.5 tonne piece of track into place. The precise planning and delivery meant the railway reopened earlier than planned and trains were able to travel at up to 90mph as normal over the junction.

Martin Colmey, operations director for Network Rail’s Central route, said: “This was a massive challenge which was fixed thanks to industry-wide meticulous planning and Formula One pit stop-style delivery. Not reacting and delivering in this way would have caused huge disruption to many vital passenger and freight services. The result is that trains are once again able to travel safely and speedily through this vital railway artery.”

Sarah Kelley, CrossCountry’s regional director for West & Wales, said: “Aynho is an immensely important junction used by our services connecting the Thames Valley and South Coast to the Midlands and the North. The speed Network Rail was able to complete this substantial project shows the efforts being made to keep services running for customers during this pandemic.”

Michael Leadbetter, planning & resourcing director at Freightliner, said: “Freightliner operates 11 daily services from the Port of Southampton to both our own and third party terminals, the majority of which use the route through Aynho Junction to access terminals in the North of England and Scotland. It is also a key corridor for aggregates traffic for HS2. Given the critical nature of this junction, we welcome the speed at which Network Rail worked in order to repair the infrastructure and bring it back to use. The Freightliner team was also pleased to assist, at very short notice, in moving two cranes to site to enable the works to take place.”

Mark Goodall, operations director at Chiltern Railways, said: “While we understand that engineering works can be an inconvenience, we work closely with Network Rail to ensure as few customers as possible are disrupted. Quick work by Network Rail at Aynho Junction has meant that this has been kept to a minimum. This essential work ensures that we can continue to run a safe and reliable railway for those that need to travel at the moment.”