PASSENGER and freight services have resumed on the southern section of the Shrewsbury - Swansea Heart of Wales line, which was closed in August 2020 after a freight train hauling 25 wagons derailed near the small Carmarthenshire village of Llangennech.

The derailment caused the wagons to catch fire with around 350,000 litres of diesel spilling into the ground, causing major concern for the surrounding wildlife conservation area and waterways.

Since then, ground teams from infrastructure manager Network Rail (NR), Natural Resources Wales, Adler and Allan and other partner agencies have put in a combined 37,500 hours of work to protect the local environment, remove the wagons from the site and repair the damaged line.

This included removing 30,000 tonnes of contaminated soil to a depth of 2m from 10m either side of a 150m-long stretch of line. This was then replaced with clean material from quarries in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, with the fuel-soaked soil taken to a licensed waste management facility in Merthyr.

NR subsequently installed 530m of new track and replaced the fire-damaged signalling infrastructure along the line.

Freight services through Llangennech resumed late on March 5, with passenger services restarting on March 8, although Transport for Wales is currently operating a reduced timetable due to Covid. The reopening follows the resumption of services on the northern section of the line in November, after repairs were made to a flood-damaged section of line.

“I am delighted that we have reached the final stages of our work to reinstate the railway following one of the biggest environmental recovery operations NR has ever been involved with,” says NR Wales route director, Mr Billy Kelly. “It is thanks to our quick-thinking frontline teams, along with our partner agencies, that the fuel spill was able to be contained so swiftly, allowing us to prevent what could have been a total environmental disaster. We can confidently say the measures we have taken will protect the local environment for generations to come.”

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch is leading an ongoing investigation into the cause of the freight train derailment.

While a number of trees on the land adjacent to the line were burnt or destroyed, the Coal Authority has put in place plans to replant them to restore the expanse of forest that was lost.

Natural Resources Wales, which compared the scale of the incident to the 1996 Sea Empress disaster, will continue to monitor shellfish and wider environment over the coming months. Latest laboratory results from the analysis of cockles and mussels for environmental contaminants, including oil, indicate levels continue to be well within regulatory limits.

“The re-opening of the railway line at Llangennech is a huge milestone in what has been a complex, challenging and ultimately successful recovery operation at a location of international environmental significance, coordinated by Natural Resources Wales,” says Mr Martyn Evans, chair of the Recovery Coordination Group, Natural Resources Wales. “There have been far-reaching impacts on the environment - on land and in the sea, the community of Llangennech, local businesses, particularly the shellfisheries, tourism and industry. Happily, most of these impacts have now been overcome and activities restored, although our work and support for some of these groups is on-going.”