Ballast Cleaner

The High Output Ballast Cleaner consists of the cleaner itself and a string of conveyor ballast wagons. The cleaner scoops up the ballast the track sits on, before then sieving out any small, broken pieces and replacing them with the same weight in fresh stone. This provides a safe, well-drained track bed.

Network Rail and Greater Anglia are working together to minimise the changes to train services while the High Output Ballast Cleaner is operating. A significant amount of forward planning has already taken place and the work has deliberately been scheduled to take place overnight and during the late evening / very early morning periods to avoid the times when the vast majority of commuters and leisure travellers will be making journeys.

Advance information is available from the service alterations section of Greater Anglia’s website or from and Journey Planners. You will also be able to find out details from local stations, and all information will be updated on a regular basis as the work programme progresses.

Overnight on Sundays, Monday, Tuesdays and Wednesday evenings - this means there will be some service alterations for the mid to late evenings and also for a small number of very early morning services. The ballast cleaner work is part of a £170m investment Network Rail is making to improve the tracks and other infrastructure in the Anglia Region in 2015.

At the weekends, some late trains or early morning Sunday services may also be affected. As the machine works on different parts of the track at different times, the alterations to services will vary, and some bus replacement services will operate to supplement the timetable, although every effort will be made to minimise the extent of these alterations. Additional customer service staff will be on duty at stations where there is a requirement for any bus replacement services.

It will help Network Rail to provide a safe, well-drained bed for the track to sit on and is absolutely vital to improving train service performance. This essential upgrade is the railway’s equivalent of resurfacing a busy road. Running a safe, reliable railway depends on the track being in good condition – not just the metal rails, but the foundations on which they sit too.

The machine will be working on the Norwich to London mainline in 2015.

  • January to April: from Norwich to Haughley (near Stowmarket)
  • April to May: from Ipswich to Stowmarket
  • May to October: from Colchester to Shenfield
  • November to December: from Norwich to Stowmarket

The machine continues on the Great Eastern Main Line in 2016, but is also planned to work on Saturday nights on the Ely to Peterborough line through the spring and summer of 2016.

Without using this machine, the work undertaken would need to be carried out using conventional methods which would be slower and more disruptive. There would be a need to close the railway during weekends and over a longer period of time. By using this machine, trains can continue running next to it – although with some service alterations - and keep the railway open. Network Rail engineers can also cover much more ground every time they carry-out this work to upgrade the railway.

Network Rail plans to clean around 400 yards every shift with the ballast cleaner. Using conventional methods would only cover around 200 yards so with this equipment, double the distance can be covered.

About half a mile and it weighs 3,000 tonnes. The machine itself represents a £42m investment by Network Rail, who operates four high output trains that work across the country. These engineering trains have worked on the West Coast Main Line, East Coast Main Line and the Great Western Main Line for the last ten years.

The ballast cleaner machine will be operating out of a base in Parkeston Quay freight yard in Harwich, Essex. This is also where the train will undergo regular maintenance and be restocked.

Yes, the cleaner will typically start its work from where it finished the night before.

There will be some bus replacement services operating at certain times of this work to either replace train services that are affected, and / or to supplement the service where a reduced train frequency is necessary to enable the HOBC machine to work on the opposite line to that on which trains will be running. Wherever possible we will seek to minimise the requirement for customers to use replacement buses, however where buses are operating these will be clearly advertised via the various media channels where the revised timetables will be publicised.

Where there is a need for customers to change trains to complete their journeys and / or travel on a replacement bus service, we will be providing additional customer service staff to provide additional help, assistance and advice for passengers at those interchange stations.

Wherever possible yes, however this will depend on your particular journey requirements. Our station staff / customer relations team will be able to help provide advice and guidance.