'This is not a shambles': Q&A with Network Rail route MD Phil Verster about the closure of the Scunthorpe to Doncaster line
What has caused the landslide?
We are avoiding finger pointing and what caused it. What we are focused on is stabilising the spoil heap. There will be time after to look at the lessons that need to be learnt. The biggest interest is to sort the problem as quickly as we can.
How did the incident happen?
The material rotated down causing the earth to slip, moving under the railway tracks. The slip is deep and severe and under the normal soil level with the railway caught in the middle. That was two weeks ago.
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What is being done now?
Work has started to try to recover the railway. We could not start work until the land had stopped moving and was secure. More than 1.5 million tonnes of slip has been involved. We are in negotiations with the colliery to create a valley to deposit material in order to stabilise the spoil heap. The material discarded will be taken to different locations around the Doncaster area. One million cubic metres of material will need to be moved which will involve a lot of trucks. There has been very good collaboration between Hatfield Colliery, Hargreaves and ourselves. Everyone is working hard to find a solution.
How long with this take?
It is estimated that it will take 16-18 weeks to recover the railways. This is weird stuff and new to us so as we carry out the work we may find challenges but we are all focused on the job. The biggest challenge is the earth moving phase.
How much will the repair works cost?
We are committed to recovering the railways and will incur the costs. The tax payers need not worry about the funding. It will cost tens of millions as it is by far the biggest operation we have seen in recent years.
Have you looked at using different routes for rail users instead of bus transport?
When we looked at recovery of the railways, we had eight or nine (track) alternatives. All of those added up to different costs and the cheapest option is to establish the spoil heap and reinstate the line.
Has this ever happened before?
We have not had an event such as this in the last 40 to 60 years.
Can you assure passengers they have always been safe?
Our business is to run a safe railway. When we were first alerted about this a clear action plan came into place and we created an exclusion zone to keep everyone safe. We will not reinstate an unsafe railway.
Who is to blame for it all?
I am not saying anything about blame. Clearly something went wrong and it is right everyone involved should learn lessons so this does not happen again.
Could Network Rail have handled this better?
No, it has been handled extraordinary well as it is a complicated problem. All projects have done well.
Is Network Rail taking legal action against the colliery?
There will be a commercial discussion and process. It is premature to discuss legal action.
Does Network Rail accept this is a shambles?
It is definitely not a shambles. This is an incident that should not have happened in the first place. Now we have to work systematically to resolve this and it is what we are doing well.
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