Major infrastructure work on the line between Pleck and Round Oak

Bridge work after closure of the line

Between the closure of the line in 1993 and the commencement of Metro construction work in 2020 four civil engineering projects required the construction of new bridges.

Up Dudley Siding (UDS)

This is the name for a short stretch of track on the South Staffs route between Pleck Jct and the site of Bescot Curve Jct. During 2012 and 2013 the redundant up and down Dudley lines - not used since 1993 - were relaid to a point underneath the M6 motorway. Here the lines converged into a short shunt neck, via a set of hand-operated points. The purpose of this was to provide a run-round facility for coal trains heading to and from Rugeley power station, saving them from having to go into Bescot to run-round.

Trains would arrive on the (former) Up Dudley line and stop just short of the motorway. The driver would then detach the loco, draw forward into the neck, change the points, and proceed back towards Pleck Jct via the former down Dudley line. When signalled the loco would proceed forward on the down slow line to a point just beyond the Wednesbury Road bridge at Pleck Jct. The driver would then change ends and wait for a dummy signal which controlled a move back onto the up Dudley line via a trailing crossover between the slow lines. After coupling up, the train would eventually depart "bang road" on the up Dudley line, using the same crossover under the Wednesbury Road to reach the down slow towards Walsall.

Although the requirement for this run-round facility had existed for a number of years, its provision was timed to coincide with the Walsall area re-signalling which took place in August 2013. At that point Walsall signalbox closed, and control of all the signals in the Bescot and Walsall area was transferred to the West Midlands Signalling Centre at Saltley. Although the re-signalling went ahead as planned, the Up Dudley Siding didn't become available for use until over a year later - in autumn 2014. By late 2014 coal trains were running at normal winter volumes or better, and for the most part all were using the UDS instead of running-round in Bescot.

However in April 2015 significantly higher carbon taxes became effective for the use of coal in electricity production. As a result the volumes of coal being conveyed to Rugeley - and other coal-fired stations - dipped dramatically. Stockpiles at power stations allowed the continued generation of electricity, but often at reduced output. Any suspicion that normal service might be restored during the winter of 2015/16, when stockpiles had been run down and demand on the grid would rise, turned out to be wrong. Coal trains ran to Rugeley during that winter, but at much-reduced levels. Typically only one to three loaded trains ran each day, rather than the seven to nine that might have been expected in previous years.

Then in early 2016 it was announced that Rugeley power station would close that summer. Daily coal trains ceased running altogether on Friday 19th February, only a couple of weeks after the closure had been announced. From that point the power station burnt its remaining stockpiled coal, and when that ran out in early June 2016 it closed. Only a handful of trains ran to Rugeley in the period between mid-February and early-June, and most of these were limestone for the flue-gas desulphurisation plant.

So in the end the UDS turned out to be something of a white elephant. Becoming available a year later than expected meant that its useful existence spanned the period circa November 2014 to February 2016. But in reality the normal volume of coal trains only used it in the period November 2014 to March 2015. From April 2015 to February 2016 the number of coal trains running to Rugeley was low, and wouldn't have presented much inconvenience at Bescot. And by summer 2016 the vegetation had already started to reclaim the newly laid - but now redundant - trackwork. As with the rest of the closed line it looked like nature would take it back again within a few years.

Overgrown Up Dudley Siding
This photo was taken from the Broadway overbridge looking towards Wednesbury on the 30th May 2017, a little over a year after the UDS fell into disuse. As can be seen vegetation had grown across both the up and down lines, especially the latter which looked impassable at this date. In subsequent years the vegetation was cut back, although the lines continued to be redundant. The only regular usage has been at the north end of the up siding, which is the left-hand track in this shot. A few yards of that line, behind the camera here, acts as a reversing spur for track machines going into the tamper siding from the Walsall station direction, or vice-versa.

Metro construction work

Construction finally commenced in the early 2020s, the old track having largely been lifted during the preceding years alongside the surveying work. The most obvious early work, aside from track-laying on the roadway in Castle Hill, Dudley, was bridge replacement on the railway alignment. This included...