Reflecting the sporting heritage of the nearby stadium, this successful North London project was the result of unprecedented teamwork across the railway industry. As a result, passengers and freight users will now benefit from better, more reliable journeys through this junction, located on one of Europe’s busiest sections of mixed-use of railway, with 500 trains passing every 12 hours.
The West Coast main line’s North Wembley junction provides crossovers between the 125mph Fast and 90mph Slow lines. The condition of the track was known to have deteriorated and it was vital that this junction was renewed so as to continue to meet the huge demand of passenger and freight rail services on the West Coast main line safely.
Access negotiations started several years in advance and, whilst the project was postponed by a year because of this, there were still three years of project development, design, and preparation. Being located just eight miles north of Euston, any possessions were going to have significant effects on services in and out of this very busy terminal station. It was realised that it would not be practical to replace components piecemeal over a long series of disruptive possessions and, in any case, modular S&C is much more reliable when installed in one operation.
The optimum solution was for three long weekend possessions that closed the WCML completely. The works would impact all services between London Euston and Birmingham/Crewe. It was recognised that there would never be an ideal time to shut the railway, but that school holiday weekends were going to be the least disruptive times to renew the junction, as historically this period sees fewer passengers travelling. This was a bold approach and could only succeed with the proactive cooperation of the train operating companies.
Network Rail and the S&C South Alliance (Colas/Aecom) developed a strategy with the operators to identify, and publicise to travellers, alternative routes and services, to reduce passenger demand and work together to minimise effects. Journeys would be very different to normal with busier trains, less seat availability and longer diverted routes, but would be well planned and reliable.
While the dates had been chosen as being quieter travelling weekends, the strategy was to reduce demand still further. All the operating companies on the WCML itself, and also on the Midland, Chiltern and East Coast main line routes, collaborated to ensure that travellers were aware of the closures and that alternative rail and bus routes were available and well publicised, especially for those travelling to the Notting Hill Carnival, Godiva Festival or Rugby Challenge Cup.
One of Network Rail’s largest advertising campaigns was launched nationally in early July to raise awareness of the changes to services. This made use of social media, adverts on TV and websites, at stations and on commercial radio stations in areas served by the WCML on the route to and from Euston. Station and on-train announcements further reminded passengers of the closures.
Trains were terminated at Hemel Hempstead and Milton Keynes. The advice to passengers for the first weekend was to ‘avoid travel’ in the area and for the second and third, the more forceful ‘do not travel’.
The work involved
This £7.2m project comprised the complete replacement of four F21.5 crossovers and associated equipment. This was largely a like-for-like replacement for the life expired track, with timber bearers being replaced by concrete. The geometry was slightly amended, with switch toes moving up to 12 metres. The opportunity was taken to provide hy-drives to the switches.
The possessions also enabled station operators to maximise maintenance opportunities during the unusual total closures of their stations. At Euston, this meant a chance to renew floor surfaces and for a station-wide deep clean.
The project compound and build-up area were located on industrial land leased from BOC and, unusually, were directly alongside the site, avoiding the inconveniences of bussing people to and from the work area.
Wembley is an urban location and both the site, and the project compound, were surrounded by housing. The project was going to affect those in earshot and a letter drop to residents was carried out in advance, and individuals’ queries and concerns resolved by the project team. During the works, normal good practice with the positioning of lights and the minimisation of noise meant that no complaints at all were received from the site’s neighbours.
The renewal works were delivered by the S&C South Alliance and led by Network Rail’s scheme project manager Caroline Gates. AECOM carried out the design and Colas Rail the site works. More than 20,000 hours of effort were involved over three weekends of 18-20 and 25-28 August, and 1-3 September, with around 80 people on each shift. A series of rules of the route possessions were used for advance works, including new undertrack crossings and ductwork as well as new drainage through the site.
As with all S&C projects, the site was short in length but extremely complex in logistics. The modular panels were delivered to the project on tilting wagons and welded together in the build-up area. These were then brought to site using Geismar’s Switch laying and removal system (32 Pem and 21 Lem units).
Road/rail vehicles loaded scrap and spread ballast from 15 engineering trains, and, to support the installation, a 125-tonne Kirow crane was used. After installation, seven tamper shifts ensured alignment and handback to traffic – at the planned 90mph after the first weekend and at line speed, a betterment achieved by the team, after the third weekend.
This was a very high-profile project and an on-time completion was vital to avoid disruption and poor publicity. Extensive contingency planning in line with DWWP (Delivery of Works Within Possessions) included duplication of major plant, including a second Kirow crane, contingency TSR if required, as well as time allowances within the work schedule.
All three possessions were handed back to operations on time and, significantly, the project attracted no adverse publicity – a tribute to the collaboration and communication of all involved.