|Article by Paul Wright, 2019
The westbound section of the A45 Higham Road, between Rushden and Wellingborough, was closed to traffic on February 4th, 2019 for a period of about 9 months. This effect was not immediate to traffic, as the coning of lanes was spread over several days of the first week or so.
The slip road Westbound on the A45 at Ditchford Lane was blocked off on the Saturday morning of the 9th February, 2019.
The railway bridge on the westbound section, can be seen in our shots, showing road traffic passing over it. This was lower than the eastbound bridge, and needed to be demolished and rebuilt at an increased height to allow for clearance of overhead line equipment. This was in anticipation of electrification of the route between London to Kettering and Corby via Bedford.
A “drop in” session was held at Rushden Lakes between 9am and 3pm on Saturday, January 26th, 2019 with information being supplied to motorists etc by Network rail staff.
Wellingborough had a similar event on Friday 25th February at the Swansgate shopping centre.
Moving along in to late February and the bridge site was being readied for the heavy equipment that was needed to remove and install the new road bridge. Traffic seemed to be coping with the work being done, and the work was not making traffic too much worse down at the Lakes roundabout at normal times. But weekends have naturally thrown up their own congestion issues.
There had been times when the traffic stacked up past the refuse tip, not helped by the fact that householders have fewer days to access the recycling facility near to Waitrose.
Under existing plans for the improvement of the route, electrification will extend north from London, but would stop at Kettering.
Not so good news for the people working on the Lawrence Leyland estate in Wellingborough. The permanent closure of the Irthlingborough road bridge had reached parliament, and local MP's Mr Peter Bone and Tom Pursglove made their concerns clear on the matter.
In February it was announced, under considerable pressure from furious local business owners, that it would not open at all. Instead, they said the near five mile diversion would remain in place until Route 4, a major Stanton Cross route, opened later in 2019. This was over turned, as can be seen later in this article.
In March, 2019, the Department for Transport (DFT) had confirmed to Neil O’Brien, MP for Harborough, that it will be extending electrification from Kettering up to Market Harborough as part of their £1.5 billion Midland Mainline scheme.
Because this was not in the original route planning, the electricity power would be picked up from the village of Braybrook, which is about a couple of miles to the south of Market Harborough. Western Power was busy taking down the previous power lines and posts in late March; these were to the side of the A45 Westbound, this was in preparation for a clear access to the new bridge.
They were joined on the site by "Open Reach" who were feeding in heavy cabling, all part of the vital utilities that are needed for the 21st century communications network.
Network Rail advised passengers to check before they travelled on the weekend of April 13 and 14 as the latest stage of the Midland mainline upgrade took place.
The work saw three sets of switches and crossings; this is specialist equipment which allows trains to move from one piece of track to another, and followed on from a similar project which took place in December, 2018.
This project is all part of a major construction of an additional line between Bedford and Kettering as part of the line upgrade and will create the capability for six trains to London St Pancras per hour, up from the current five by the end of 2020.
By the week commencing 9th April, 2019, bricks were being removed from the old bridge, and work had continued making a road-way down to the site from Irchester village.
In the same week it was announced that East Midlands Trains would cease to run the franchise from August, 2019. They were owned by parent company "Stagecoach" who have operated buses locally for many years. And the routes would be taken over by the Dutch owned company "Abellio East Midlands" and that is scheduled to run until August, 2027.
The “East Midlands Railway” brand identity was introduced from August 18th. It will have distinct purple and white branding, colours that were being applied gradually onto trains, stations, websites and posters.
Mid April and the work had started to rig the overhead cables for the electrification, pushing north from Bedford, they had reached the village of Oakley.
At the end of April, 2019, a U-turn was announced about the controversial planned closure of the bridge near to the Lawrence Leyland Estate at Wellingborough.
The new bridge would be built at a raised height so high-voltage overhead line equipment can be installed to allow the railway from Bedford to Kettering and Corby to be electrified.
It was a wet and chilly week that spanned the May day bank holiday in 2019, and that was the period that the heavy lift crane moved in to action at the bridge site on the A45. That remained working on site until mid August. Road closures westbound were in place for three days at The Lakes, to allow further work to be carried out, and diversions were put in place.
The following weekend saw new points being installed on the railway at Sharnbrook, so no trains were running between Kettering and Bedford, and this meant a bus service was the alternative mode of travel.
This will give at least one extra train per hour, going from five to six in total. The long awaited bridge upgrade was being put in to place from the start of June, 2019.
Things were rather disrupted at the start of August, with lots of problems caused by high winds. This affected most of the traffic coming out of St Pancras on Thameslink and East Midlands Trains. The Dutch-owned Abellio took over the contract to run services along the Midland Mainline from Stagecoach on Sunday, August 18th, 2019.
And they have promised new trains across their fleet, plus upgraded stations, more seats and better timetabling. As the new franchise came in to place, Rail passengers at Wellingborough were furious that, from December 2020, direct services travelling north to places like Market Harborough, Leicester and Nottingham may well be scrapped? The view up at Corby was not much better, with commuters saying that ‘new’ carriages planned to travel between Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough and London will actually be 20-year-old ‘cast-offs’ from the Clacton area in Essex!
Moving in to late August the new A45 bridge was starting to show progress, and the concrete components took shape. We were told in September, that the section of the A45 would not re-open until November. The reason given that the weather had been too wet and windy, and this had caused some delays.
Having said that, traffic was allowed to drive over the new bridge, with a speed restriction during October, 2019. The contraflow was removed during early November, and Network
Rail said there would be the need for some short-term single lane closures on the eastbound carriageway during the month. This was to raise the height of the walls on the older bridge to prevent any contact with the power cables below.
It was during that Autumn that the new copper coloured cables were in place in several locations in our neck of the woods. The continued upgrades to the Midland Main Line meant the railways between Market Harborough and Bedford, and Corby to Bedford were closed on the weekends of November 2 and 3, and November 16 and 17. During the first weekend, the bridge in Bromham Road, Bedford was being removed. This was the final road bridge to be demolished in the electrification of the Midland main line.
On that second weekend, the platforms in Kettering and Wellingborough were being extended to allow newer and longer trains to stop there in future.
Network Rail also renewed more track at, and around, Wellingborough station, and some of this can be seen in one of our shots which was taken at night.
Thanks to John Harbour and Keith Coles for their input, and supplying photos during the bridge project.
So from the closure in early February, to the work being completed by early November, 2019, the bridge is now fully open.
The “East Midlands Railway” brand identity was introduced in August, 2019. But by late November I saw little, or no change on the actual livery, with just “EMR” in bold lettering on the outside of the carriages.
By the end of November, millions of rail commuters were told that they are going to have to pay an average of 2.7% more for their rail tickets from 2 January, 2020.
This rise, announced by the Rail Delivery Group, is lower than the 3.1% increase at the start of 2019. The rail companies say this is the third year in a row that average fares have been held below the benchmark inflation measure on which the rises are based.
Many commuters will still face an increase of more than £100 in the annual cost of getting to work. Not surprisingly the Independent watchdog Transport Focus said a majority of rail users did not feel they were getting value for money.
Better news for motorists down at Wellingborough station, the long awaited B571 road is now open from the start of winter, 2019.
As for the implementation of electric trains running between Corby and London, it had been mentioned it may happen by end of 2020?