One of Network Rail’s bigger Christmas jobs in 2018 was that at Wellingborough North Junction, 57m 0ch to 69m 40ch on the Midland main line (MML). The main works here took place between 22:20 on Sunday 23 December 2018 and 04:00 on Monday 2 January 2019. Within those timescales, there were two sets of works, the first stage involving the Fast lines and the second the Slows. Prior to the first of these, some significant enabling works were needed.
These works were a key part of the improvement of the MML between London St Pancras and Kettering, and through to Corby. Essentially, the overall scheme will provide additional track capacity by re-instating an Up Slow line between Sharnbrook Junction and Kettering. The second track between Kettering and Corby was installed and commissioned in Feb 2018. Electrification to Corby will follow and is underway. In addition, significant signalling improvements are being made.
As I spoke to Network Rail’s Chris Buxton, I had to smile to myself as I recalled how, years ago, I criticised the Corby/Kettering singling scheme, then being implemented by British Rail, because the new signalling installations for the single line were being installed in the trackbed of the track being removed. I thought it short sighted, as this would obstruct any future re-doubling of the route, but was laughed at by colleagues. “It will never happen” was the comment.
So, here we are with the double track being re-instated on the Slows, to give a four track railway north of Wellingborough. To tie this in properly with the existing three-track layout at Wellingborough and to the south, it has been necessary to remodel the North Junction in preparation.
The first works in preparation for the Christmas job involved the installation of a new signal gantry – LR34/LR36 – north of the junction at about 66m 15ch. This was undertaken during week commencing 13 October and the associated new signals on the gantry were installed and tested so that they could be commissioned during the Christmas works.
De-vegetation works were carried out on the Down side of the line adjacent to the GBRF Neilson’s Sidings and a site where Bovis Homes are undertaking groundworks in preparation for a new housing development. A temporary fence was also installed adjacent to the line here.
These works, undertaken between 8 and 10 October, were crucial to the main project, as will be discussed later.
Delivery of new ballast and sleepers for the main works on the Down Slow line side commenced on 2 November, these being stored in the GBRF sidings. The S&C for the Fast line works was delivered to the lineside on weekend 36. All this meant that the vast majority of the materials required were available on site before the Christmas works began.
A significant further preparatory task was completed with the removal and relaying in plain line of 701B Points, the connection in the Down Main that serves the Down Goods Loop.
Preparatory signalling and points heating works, such as running out and pre-testing cables, installing transformer bases and the like, also took place.
The final and critical preparatory job was the construction of a formation for a temporary rail ‘haul road’ on the Down side along the intended path of the future headshunt north of the main worksite. This was to allow the laying in of a temporary track here, along which the materials for the Slow lines works would be hauled from the sidings to the junction worksite. The formation was constructed to main line standards in order that it can serve as the formation of the Up Slow when that is installed later.
The site was previously a headshunt for the reception line of the GBRF sidings.
Fast line works
The main works began with the relaying of the Fast line connections of the new junction layout. These comprise, working south to north, a facing crossover connecting the two Fast lines (702A/B), a facing crossover from Down Fast to Down Goods Loop (701A/B) and a trailing turnout (703B) in the Up Fast that was to form part of the crossover from the Up and Down Slow (future Down Slow) to the Up Fast.
All of these involve ‘F’ switches and, in due course, the speeds through them will increase from the present 25mph to 40mph. The speed increase is a part of the reason for the renewal of the junction, though for signalling reasons it will not be implemented until the full scheme is commissioned at Christmas 2019. However, the main reason for the renewal was that the S&C was approaching the end of its operational life.
The Fast lines S&C work was all delivered in modular panels to the trackside prior to the main works, being delivered by road from manufacturers Progress Rail. Installation was carried out using Network Rail’s Kirow 1200 rail crane, working at nights from 23 December to 2 January.
Slow line works
The Slow line works used modular S&C units delivered to site on tilting wagons. Once again, working from south northwards, these were the second end of the Down Slow/Up Fast crossover (703A), a facing crossover (704A/B) that connects the future Down Slow (now the Up and Down Slow) to the future Up Slow. All of these again employ ‘F’ switches. Finally, there was a crossover to connect the sidings into the future Up Slow (currently a headshunt).
These Slow line works were completed on the nights of 27/28 and 28/29 December. The remainder of the slow line works, renewal of 800 metres of the Down Slow and installation of the new Up Slow 800 metres, were completed between 00:20 on 24 December and the 04:00 on 2 January, with the last 24 hours being ‘wheels free’ for Siemens to commission the signalling.
The new Up Slow is to be used as the current head shunt until final commissioning of the project during December 2019. Materials stored at the GBRF sidings were hauled to site along the rail haul road by Unimogs pulling rail wagons. All the spoil was taken out by the same means.
The original programme for all of this involved nine different stages due to the constrained track access originally available. However, in early 2018, new access arrangements became possible, permitting the staging of the works over Christmas and New Year, as described.
Since this new programme permitted all of the S&C works to be tackled in one hit, the future programme of work becomes much easier to complete in the planned timescales. These works include the necessary new signalling installations, the completion and connection of the additional track between Wellingborough and Corby, and the completion of the electrification scheme through to Corby.
The track works were finished by S&C tampers supplied by VolkerRail and Babcock Rail. The crossovers were parallel tamped by the two machines working in tandem. This is important, as it is the most efficient and effective way to ensure that the support under the through bearers of the layouts is consistent. This avoids the risk of twist faults in the track and the potential derailments this may cause, and it ensures that the bearers are not damaged by being less well supported at certain points than at others.
The two tampers were employed thus between 20:35 on Christmas Day and 05:35 on Boxing Day. Tamping shifts involving one tamper then followed over the night of 30/31 December.
Additional Works & Project Statistics
Additional works, besides the signal gantry already discussed, included capping air shafts of a culvert under the line, installing under track crossings and installing, testing and commissioning point heating on all the new S&C. A significant workload was undertaken by Siemens, which was responsible for the signalling works including the commissioning of all the new sets of points, the speed signage for the new layout, signalling alterations and commissioning as well as some signalling recovery works.
The statistics for this work programme are impressive. 10 point-ends were installed, and about 1,600 metres of plain line, necessitating some 3,235 concrete sleepers/bearers. 13,000 tonnes of spoil had to be removed and 10,750 tonnes of new ballast was laid. Nine engineering trains were used, in addition to the Unimog haulage used on the Slow lines works.
To the great credit of all concerned, particularly the main contractor, Amey and signalling contractor, Siemens, these 10 days of works were completed without any accident or incidents. The Slow lines were handed back at line speed and the Fast lines with a 50mph planned temporary speed restriction. Some 100 individuals gave up their Christmas/New Year holidays to work on the site, allowing the work to be undertaken at a time when the railway was in significantly less demand from users, minimizing disruption to customers.
The completion of these works leaves the project in excellent shape to complete the whole scheme next Christmas.
Thanks to project manager Chris Buxton and media relations manager Amy Brenndorfer, both from Network Rail’s LNE & EM region, for their assistance in compiling this article.