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12 days of Christmas

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Over the recent Christmas and New Year period, over 20,000 members of the Orange Army (Network Rail and its contractors) were out and about on the railway network, on 8,300 worksites in 2,600 possessions within 524 unique projects, undertaking work valued at almost £150 million. And that’s just on the mainline network. There were more men and women working on London Underground, tram systems and local metros around the country.

So far as Network Rail was concerned, there were two main workstreams. 824 of the worksites related to work by Infrastructure Projects, conducting major enhancements to the network that couldn’t otherwise be carried out overnight through the rest of the year. Significant bridge replacements, extensive trackwork alterations or renewals, major work at stations. It all took days, and the Christmas and New Year break was just the time to do it.

The other worksites belonged to Network Operations, the railway’s maintenance team. This year, routine work on switches and crossings, overhead wiring, signalling and telecommunications was made more onerous by the need to pull in repairs to infrastructure damaged by severe weather. Flooded track, damaged bridges, collapsed embankments – they all had to be repaired ready for train services to recommence on 4 January (in the main).

At least Infrastructure Projects (IP) had been given the luxury of planning its work in advance. That planning had been done with more care this year, and with more oversight, following the embarrassingly poor performance by Network Rail in 2014. To be honest, it hadn’t actually been that bad. Only a handful of possessions had overrun, delaying the return of parts of the railway to passenger service. However, two of those had shut King’s Cross and Paddington stations and inconvenienced a great many passengers. These were very public failures and the senior management of Network Rail had been held to account – very publicly.

There was naturally no appetite to have that repeated. So all the planning was conducted according to Delivering Work Within Possessions (DWWP). The likelihood of any job to overrun was assessed, and those sites carrying a greater risk of overrun and/or a more significant impact in the event of overrun were classed as RED sites. It total, there were 80 of them, spread across 30 projects.

The result of all that planning was a success. No parliamentary enquiries this year as, despite the bad weather, only 14 possessions overran slightly, four of them IP ones, and the total train delays for the entire period amounted to less than 400 minutes.

That’s not to say there were no problems – there were. However, contingency planning allowed project managers to alter their programmes to make sure that the railway was handed back on time. For example, a couple of track renewals that were planned as having 300mm of ballast depth replaced only had 200mm skimmed off, saving time although the sites may need revisiting in ten years time rather than twenty. But the priority was to ensure train delays were minimised, and in that the robust contingency planning worked well.

Only one RED job was cancelled completely, when the winds got up and prevented an old bridge being removed, and a new one installed, at Old Lodge Lane. However, the railway remained intact, preparatory works were undone, and everyone will have to go back on another, hopefully calmer, day.

Some of the more significant works over the holiday period have their own articles in this issue. However, one mustn’t forget the sheer volume of work carried out around the country.

OOCPA - final 5 [online]
Photo:Nick Mann.
Central England

Teams around the region successfully completed 280 worksites within 127 possessions, including bridge and culvert reconstructions, signalling renewals and works on Northern Hub and by the Staffordshire Alliance. All work was completed in full and handed back on time with no accidents.

On the Northern Hub, work took place over New Year (00:40 on 2 Jan to 04:40 on 4 January) to strengthen bridge arches and install signal gantry foundations. Plain line renewal on the Middlewood Viaduct, 180 metres on the Up Chat Moss line, took the alignment to almost its final position. At Stafford, as part of the £250 million improvement programme, two underbridges were demolished and reconstructed on the West Coast main line during a 102-hour possession. This has allowed the line speed to be increased on this stretch of line as the new structures can withstand the higher loads imposed on them.

A little further north, signalling sighting has been causing a problem with several SPADs (signals passed at danger) having taken place. Two signals were converted to LED and the signal heads were lowered. This involved renewal of part of the signal gantry structure and the installation of a new cable route.

Work is underway to provide an increased frequency of train services into Birmingham for those passengers using the new Bromsgrove station, installing 4.5 miles of new OLE and undertaking significant track remodelling. A culvert (underbridge 94), one of many running beneath the construction area, was in poor condition and had partially collapsed in 2011.

IP Central, in collaboration with its CP5 framework supplier VolkerRail, replaced 23 metres of this culvert during the Christmas period (59-hour possession of the main lines). This involved the removal of three sections of track (Up, Down and Down Goods) and one set of points, the excavation and removal of the old culvert and installation of 20 new precast concrete sections. The new culvert was then backfilled, the track re-instated and tamped.

In Northamptonshire, based on future passenger and freight requirements, the minimum future timetable requirement over the Kettering-Corby-Manton route is for two passenger trains and one freight train per hour in each direction, with the potential for one additional passenger train path and two additional intermodal train paths also being considered. Working with Carillion (track) and Siemens (signalling) one pair of existing points were replaced and a new crossover installed, with new SPX MkII Clamp Locks. New point detection for the newly installed Fast to Slow crossover was cut into existing track circuit indications.

A £76 million project at Banbury (see page 32) will remove the poor asset condition of older signalling equipment installed in the 1970s through a remodelling/rationalisation of the track and signalling layout. The Christmas works formed stage 17 out of 24 and were carried out during a 57-hour possession, including track renewals through platform 2, a 330-metre relay north of Banbury Ladder and a 550-metre track realignment.

The track renewals team completed a relay at Langley on the East Coast main line and opened at line speed (125mph). In addition, the team started ‘short shift’ plain line works at Stallingborough, achieving 200 yards of relay that had been planned to take eight hours in six and a half. How Mill plain line relay was also delivered on the New Year weekend – 868 yards in 31.5 hours.

Western & Wales

The Cardiff Area Signalling Renewals scheme includes a series of multi-funded enhancements, such as significant station improvements, track renewals and remodelling. It is being delivered in five distinct phases, four of which are now complete, and is required for the Great Western main line electrification programme.

Over a 76.5-hour possession, track contractors installed two point ends at the east end of Cardiff Central station, as well as new ballast retention over the underbridges. Panel installation works were significantly slower than anticipated due to unforeseen buried services within the station area and time taken to pass panels under gantry structures and over underbridge structures. Non-critical welding was curtailed, in line with an agreed mitigation plan, to allow all other works to be completed and the possession to be handed back on time.

Signalling contractors supported these works as well as undertaking an MCS equipment firmware changeover, Westlock data change and ARS data change. These corrected a number of testlogs from previous commissionings and uploaded new data in readiness for CASR Phase 5.

Great Western and Crossrail

A large programme of work was carried out over the holidays on 372 worksites within 107 possessions which included some for the Crossrail project. There were no lost time injuries although there were three engineering train derailments and six points run-throughs, which are under investigation.

The first stage of bridgeworks at Parson Street, for construction (by others) of a dual carriageway road under the railway for the South Bristol Link Metrobus project, took place over the holidays on behalf of North Somerset Council. This work included the installation of permanent structural steel sheet pile abutment walls perpendicular to the railway lines and

the installation of two sacrificial steel slide rail girders. High winds and uncharted cables caused problems, but these possibilities had been considered at the planning stage and contingency actions were implemented.

Work continued at Stockley viaduct to remove the conflict between the main lines and Heathrow airport lines through grade separation and to increase capacity on the airport and relief lines. The second phase of the flyover will be commissioned in Xmas 2016. A full report of this work can be found on (see page 54).

A new footbridge at Ealing Broadway (see page 42) formed part of the work completed at three stations, the other two being Southall and Hayes and Harlington. At Southall, removal of the mainline span and heritage siding spur of the Merrick Road footbridge will enable a future track slew which will improve the track geometry and allow adjustments to the platform widths.

Cut back and construction of a new riser wall to Platform 4 at Hayes and Harlington will enable the future track slew, demolition, reconstruction and extension to the new bay line Platform 5.

Following the well-publicised improvements to Reading station, track and civils work at Maidenhead form part of the Crossrail  programme to transform travel into the capital from the West. The track through Platform 5 was repositioned while the passenger and luggage subway slabs were realigned, as were the Platform 5 coper stones (to suit the new track alignment). A 120-metre piled retaining wall was constructed to the east of the station.

Microsoft PowerPoint - Christmas 2015 Post Bank Holiday Report v


Paddington station was the venue for a ground breaking collaboration between Network Rail and London Underground (see page XXX). Network Rail worked on Platform 14 using a London Underground work train parked in Platform 15, and then LU carried out its own work on Platform 15 with the help of a train from Network Rail National Supply Chain that was situated in Platform 14. Well done everybody!

At West Ealing, plans are underway to bring commuters from Greenford Station and terminate in the remodelled West Ealing Bay Line, where passengers will be able to interchange onto Crossrail for an enhanced service into central London. Substantial track work recovered one set of points and 320 metres of the Up Greenford track infrastructure. Two new turnouts and 100 metres of track into the Bay Line platform were installed, as were associated points heaters and new signalling assets including a level crossing.

Crossrail Anglia undertook an extensive stations programme including platform extensions and ticket hall refurbishments. At Shenfield, a major rationalisation of the crossovers on the mains was implemented with a complete replacement of the Southend Loop. Considerable enabling works at Shenfield London End included 66 piles and steel erections to facilitate the building of new Platform 6.

Scotland and North East

A successful Christmas and New Year programme involved 292 worksites within 125 possessions with two major sites completed in Scotland (Anniesland crossover and Craigentinny depot works) and a multitude of works down the East Coast main line requiring close integration.

Signalling was commissioned at Anniesland (see page 24), where the project to provide a diversionary route which will allow the train service to operate during the blockade associated with the Glasgow Queen St High Level track slab renewal (commencing March 2016) is nearing completion.

S&C and plain track works, and associated OLE adjustments, were carried out at Craigentinny where alterations are being made to the existing depot for the new Hitachi IEP trains, which are due to replace the current HST fleet from 2017.

Overhead line crossovers and wires were renewed in several locations, as part of a project to improve the resilience of the East Coast main line and upgrade its power supplies. Five OLE wire runs were renewed, two at Hitchin South and three at Cambridge Junction. Piling, structures and aerial earth wires were installed at Potters Bar where electrification is being upgraded from a classic rail return system to part-autotransformer between Wood Green and Bawtry. Cable ladders were installed to both Welwyn Tunnels.

Infrastructure Projects’ track renewals team replaced six point ends during a 56-hour possession at Haymarket (see page 25) as well as 560 yards of plain line during a further 36-hour possession split between the Up and Down North.

A 105-hour possession at Doncaster (see page 36) saw works split over two locations between Doncaster station and Marshgate Junction to renew older S&C units and associated plain line. Also included in the scope were signalling/OLE upgrades along with switch heating upgrades and the renewal of platform coping stones.

In addition, two very difficult renewals at Dock Street Tunnel (Dundee) and a drainage item at Princes Street Gardens were undertaken over Christmas and New Year. The Dock street work was both relay and drainage, partly in a tunnel, and involved the installation of a check rail due to the extremely tight curvature.

One of Network Rail’s most significant Christmas projects, costing £100 million, North Lincolnshire Resignalling (see page 44) converted 16 level crossings and 60 miles of signalling, along with recontrolling 13 signal boxes to the new Rail Operating Centre (ROC) at York. The main works were completed in a single blockade running from 24 Dec 2015 until 11 Jan 2016, and part of the route was handed back early (on 30 Dec) to allow freight in and out of Immingham port.

Coinciding with the North Lincolnshire Resignalling work, Network Rail’s ASPRO team (Asset Protection) was out near Immingham, working on an £88.4 million Highways England project to improve road access into the port. A new bridge was needed to carry the A610 over the railway. During a 76-hour possession, the track was removed, the embankment excavated, bridge slid into place, backfill/compaction operations completed (including the bridge drainage installation), and the reinstatement of the track and its associated infrastructure took place.


Two incomplete projects marred the otherwise-perfect record at 142 worksites within 73 possessions. The exceptions were the Old Lodge Lane bridge works, which were cancelled due to persistent high winds, and the bridge works at River Avon/Stour. Here, the key works at both structures involved replacement of the wheel timber track support with steel railbearers and a suite of condition-based structural repairs during a 10-day blockade. The Up line works were cancelled (as per the contingency plan) due to delays in the removal of the Down line timber railbearers and achieving the required alignment of the new steel rail bearers.

For some time, a major project has been underway to renew the overhead electrification lines (OLE) between Liverpool Street station and Shenfield, Chelmsford.

These lines were originally electrified at 1,500V DC, work which commenced in the 1930s but was only completed in 1949. The original fixed- termination OLE is still in use, but it is being replaced with modern automatically tensioned wiring. There are a total of 308 wire runs to be renewed, with around 100 remaining and the project planned for completion in 2018/19. Over a 10-day blockade at Christmas, 245 hours continuous day and night working, totalling 21,250 man-hours, resulted in the completion of the wire runs at Romford Junction.

The Wessex capacity programme is a series of works designed to improve capacity with particular focus on Waterloo station. Over Christmas, the Wessex Capacity Alliance undertook signalling enabling work, disconnecting platforms 21-24 (old Waterloo International) from the signalling systems
to allow upgrade works to commence. Modifications were also made to the signalling system on site and the 650V signalling power supply system.

The track renewals team replaced 1,885 yards of plain line at Finsbury Park while the S&C South Alliance (Network Rail/Colas Rail/AECOM) installed 12 new switches and crossing units and 330 yards of plain track, as well as undertaking bridge repairs and headspan adjustments, at Acton Wells Junction.

Purley (see page 34) is one of the main junctions on the Brighton main line and is heavily used by both passenger and freight traffic.

The junction and all its associated signalling, third rail and points heating were replaced in a 10-day blockade over the holiday period. Whilst extremely disruptive for customers, the blockade was the most efficient way to deliver the project as double the amount of disruptive access would have been required to deliver the work in smaller possessions.

Hayes and Harlington Station Works (157) [online]
Photo: Emily Papworth.

During a 10-day blockade starting on Thursday 24 December at 20:00 and handing back at 04:00 on Monday 4 January, a mix of track, signalling and civils work was completed.

Track slews were laid at either end of London Bridge station to connect into the new platforms 7, 8 and 9. The new Borough Market Viaduct was brought into use. Four new Ewer Street crossovers were commissioned and seven point ends were recovered at Metropolitan Junction.

Charing Cross interlocking (the boundary between the London end of Waterloo East and Charing Cross) has been re-controlled to Three Bridges Rail Operating Centre (TBROC) on a new Westcad Terminal. The area between Waterloo East and east of London Bridge station, through new Platforms 7, 8 and 9 via the Borough Viaduct, has been re-signalled and now controlled via a new Westcad terminal, Workstation 2, at TBROC.

Telecoms and signalling equipment was recovered throughout the worksite (from Charing Cross to the country end of London Bridge Station). Westlock trackside equipment was brought into use for the first time (also known as zone controllers) allowing the signalling system to run more efficiently.

Two gantries were fully recovered and one partially recovered. The existing Up and Down Charing Cross lines (4 and 5) were recovered and the station hoarding moved across to form a new boundary. New hoarding was erected to protect the worksite in the old Platforms 4 and 5.

Network Operations

While most of the major pre-planned works were carried out by Network Rail Infrastructure Projects, Network Operations had a couple of their own.

One was the second of four phases to remove and replace the electro- pneumatic points within Birmingham New Street Station, with the two remaining phases planned within 2016. The conversion to Clamp Lock is also an essential early enabler for the forthcoming New Street Area Resignalling Project. Over Christmas and Boxing Day, four electro- pneumatic point ends were successfully converted to Clamp Locks, tested and handed back into operation.

Turnout panels at Waterloo and at Queenstown Road were successfully renewed as part of a £5 million upgrade and strengthening project prior to major blockade work in August 2017.

The weather didn’t make the men and women from Network Operations’ life any easier as they were drafted in on Boxing Day to repair flood damage and to assess the condition of around 50 bridges and viaducts across Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire. The line between Rochdale, Greater Manchester, and Hebden Bridge, in West Yorkshire on the Leeds-Manchester route, was closed after severe flooding left Walsden station in Lancashire under several feet of water. Floods from Walsden to Todmorden damaged signalling power supplies.

Meanwhile, the railway at Kirkstall, northwest of Leeds, was also under water. Services between Leeds and Bradford, Skipton and Bradford and between Leeds and Harrogate were affected, along with the Skipton to Hellifield line.

In North Wales, the line between Llandudno Junction and Blaenau Ffestiniog is still closed after floodwaters reached platform level at North Llanrwst station. Reports of a landslip at Llanbadarn on the Cambrian line between Aberystwyth and Birmingham International turned out to be a fallen tree, which was removed and the line reopened under caution. A ‘route proving’ exercise was necessary on the line between Holyhead and Llandudno Junction following heavy rainfall in the area and speed restrictions were imposed around Gaerwen due to flooding.

On Christmas Eve, the line between Folkestone and Dover was closed after storms damaged the sea wall at Shakespeare Beach in Dover. Storms lowered the beach level by almost two metres in the lead up to Christmas and exposed the foot of the wall to the full force of the sea. This led to sink holes appearing in the railway above, which continued to develop as the chalk infill became destabilised. Teams from Network Rail and its partner Costain worked to protect the railway and sea wall, with more than 18,000 tonnes of rock armour placed on the beach. In addition, design teams have been working on a long-term solution to the damage.

Worst of all was the situation at Lamington Viaduct. Severely damaged by storm Frank on 30 December, one pier was weakened so that the bridge, on the West Coast main line north of Carlisle, would be closed for several weeks. Having successfully stabilised the damaged pier by pumping over 300 cubic metres of fast-setting concrete into the void, engineers were able to conduct structural checks on sections of the viaduct it was previously too unsafe to inspect.

Those inspections revealed that continued bad weather and high water levels had caused structural damage to another pier on the viaduct
and that three steel bearings, which support the bridge deck and track, had been damaged. The damage to the foundations was worse than previously thought, requiring more time and significantly more work to properly stabilise the structure and likely to keep it out of action until the beginning of March.

Overall impressions

Railway workers, whether they worked for Network Rail, contractors or London Underground, certainly had a busy Christmas and New Year. For an unlucky few, such as those at Lamington, the work would continue well into 2016.

However, after a very bad press following the Christmas and New Year works in 2014/15, this year things were a lot better. Almost the full programme of works was delivered, and some unexpected ones pulled in. Passengers experienced almost no unexpected delays and the extra effort put into the planning process really paid off.

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne said: “I am extremely proud of our team who have worked so hard in the planning and execution of the upgrade plan over the last year. This planning allowed them to deliver despite the atrocious weather conditions and is a great example of what the Network Rail team can do.”

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin agreed: “Network Rail and the operators have delivered essential improvements to the rail network over the Christmas period. These are crucial for providing better journeys for passengers, progressing key projects such as Crossrail and the Thameslink Programme, and nearly £100 million of improvements in Lincolnshire, as part of our record investment in the railways.

“I welcome the news that this has been completed on time. I would like to thank passengers for their patience, and pay tribute to the men and women who have been working in challenging weather conditions for much of the time.”

Well done everyone. Now start planning for Christmas 2016!

Lead image: Emily Papworth.


  1. Well done Network Rail. Even though it was months ago but still well done. Hopefully more works would continue during this year aswell this Christmas into next year and onwards to keep our railways up-to-date.


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