Weaver to Wavertree resignalling is one of the latest resignalling schemes to be completed and involved new signalling between Edge Hill station, just outside Liverpool, and Winsford station in the south. Weaver Junction, the oldest flying junction in Britain, is located on the West Coast main line between Warrington and Crewe, connecting to Liverpool via the Runcorn Railway Bridge and Wavertree junction.
The signalling between Weaver and Wavertree junctions was a mixture of mechanical, relay and solid-state interlockings (SSI). The condition of the lineside infrastructure was very poor indeed.
There have been a number of attempts to carry out a line-of-route resignalling and control point rationalisation over the years. The Inter-City business sector of BR developed a scheme in the late 1980s, but railway privatisation got in the way and it never happened. Railtrack’s priorities were elsewhere, although they had to carry out some resignalling at Ditton and Halewood to deliver the West Coast upgrade.
Between 8 and 18 December in the year 2000, a new NX panel box at Ditton was commissioned, leading to the closure of Ditton No.1 and Ditton No.2 lever frame signal boxes. It was planned that this would eventually result in the closure of Halton Junction, Runcorn, Speke Junction and Allerton Junction signal boxes, but it took another 18 years for this to be delivered, such was the scale of the signalling work required in the North West with other routes having priority due to their condition.
Finally, in control period five (CP5), a line-of-route scheme to resignal and recontrol the route has been successfully delivered. The scheme was part of Network Rail’s £340m Liverpool City investment programme and the Great North Rail Project. Five signal boxes have been removed, with control moving to the Manchester Rail Operating Centre (MROC) as part of Network Rail’s wider modernisation programme in the region.
Having the ROC available as a control point was one factor to enable the scheme to proceed, along with the availability of the IP-based FTNx telecoms network core, together with the resignalling of Liverpool Lime Street also taking place in CP5. Along with improved asset condition, better reliability and more efficient operation, the scheme has also improved connectivity to Allerton train maintenance depot and facilitated the Halton Curve connection to Chester.
The project was classed as the resignalling of Allerton, Speke, Runcorn and Halton interlocking areas, a ‘re-lock’ of Garston, and a ‘re-control’ of the Ditton and Halewood interlocking areas.
In simple terms, a ‘re-lock’ means a new interlocking and lineside train detection, points and signal equipment, while a ‘re-control’ involves the existing interlocking and signalling being controlled from a new location, in this case the Manchester ROC.
Allerton, Speke, Runcorn and Halton signal boxes were mechanical frames with a mixture of 1962 P-Style and 1980s 930-style relays. The lineside assets were in very poor condition, not surprising given their age and extensive use on a busy main line.
Garston area was a relay interlocking controlled from Speke signal box. The interlocking was renewed in 2005 following arson at Garston signal box. Control was by means of individual function switches (IFS) on an illuminated diagram at Speke. The interlocking and lineside assets were in good condition but required modification or replacement in order to make them suitable for recontrol to the ROC.
With IFS, a separate button/switch is provided for each signal and for each set of points, and the assets are operated in a similar manner to a lever frame. The signalperson must move each set of points to the desired position before operating the switch or button of the signal controlling them. This type of panel needs the least complex circuitry but is not suited to controlling large or busy areas.
Ditton and Halewood interlocking areas were MkIII SSI areas and the equipment was in relatively good condition. However, with signalling technology improving all the time, there were benefits in upgrading some of the lineside assets as the replacement of the existing, obsolete SSI trackside equipment would facilitate an improvement in performance.
The fringe signalling arrangements to Carterhouse Junction had been informally recovered in the past, but they now needed to be recovered formally.
The scheme was instigated just over six years ago. Since then, there has been a lot of effort by the many team members to develop the scheme, secure the funding, organise access for the blockade and integrate the works. Integration, in terms of design, construction and blockade management, is sometimes taken for granted, but no scheme can exist without this and the work involved should not be underestimated.
Siemens Rail Automation (SRA) is the framework resignalling contractor for the area, assisted on the Weaver to Wavertree scheme by Haigh Rail as a sub-contractor. Throughout the works, there has been a culture of collaboration with Network Rail and the other programme partners, enabling the project team to achieve high standards of delivery.
Buckingham Group Contracting provided all the civil engineering requirements, with Readypower Terrawise as a sub-contractor. In one 48-hour period within a 199-hour blockade of Weaver to Wavertree, they recovered 132 location cupboards, 54 signals, nine signs and erected eight new signals and gantry droppers.
The interlocking is a Siemens Trackguard Westlock – a flexible, microprocessor-based interlocking that provides an advanced, digital signalling system but safeguards investment in existing infrastructure as it is fully retro-compatible with SSI. A Trackguard Westlock interlocking can manage an area equivalent to four original SSI interlockings, allowing interlocking cross-boundaries to be eliminated or repositioned and improves route setting times.
The architecture is a flexible design and permits the interlocking to be connected in a variety of ways, to provide the most appropriate architecture for each location. This flexibility allows it to be applied adjacent to existing SSIs, to recontrol existing SSI trackside equipment or to be applied directly in its own right.
Phase one of the Weaver to Wavertree re-signalling Scheme, between Weaver junction and Ditton East junction, entered into service at 23:55 on Tuesday 8 May 2018 as planned. This was the first deployment of the Siemens Westrace Trackside System (WTS) in a distributed configuration and under 25kV (which in itself is notoriously difficult for new technology, due to electrical noise), abolishing Runcorn and Halton signal boxes. A new Westcad ‘Wavertree Workstation’ was located at the Manchester ROC to control the route.
WTS is an evolution in trackside-signalling control, providing a flexible, modern, network-compatible system which is capable of replacing trackside functional modules (TFMs), relays, and other legacy equipment in a wide variety of trackside applications, bringing all the previous benefits but with even better processing performance, input/output (I/O) options, availability and diagnostics than before.
As an internet protocol (IP) network-based solution, rather than one that operates over a baseband datalink as traditional TFMs would, WTS makes use of the highly flexible, network-based communications network to allow a wide variety of architectures to be implemented. Complex station layouts can be signalled using a centralised architecture and, for lower density areas, I/O modules may be spread along the trackside. This enables the applications engineer to mix both architectures to optimise the solution.
Through the use of optical fibre cables on the trackside, the IP-network can also be used for other system communications such as remote condition monitoring, automatic power reconfiguration and axle counter systems.
Train detection on the route has been provided via the Frauscher Advanced Axle Counter (FAdC) and a Westrace Network Communication (WNC), using auto re-convergence via a Signalling Private Network (SPN) communications design and trackside fibre. Network Rail Telecoms (NRT) commissioned the required lineside IP communication links back to Manchester ROC, which provided data communication links for Liverpool Lime Street resignalling as well as Weaver Wavertree.
The WTS with integrated FAdC is the result of nearly 10 years of development and moves the railway away from the equivalent of low speed ‘dial-up’ internet speeds to the fast broadband internet. Prior to this solution, SSIs (the devices that control signals, points and other lineside equipment) from the eighties were connected along the trackside with a bespoke copper data cable running at 20kB (dial-up internet was about 56kB – remember how slow that was!). WTS uses CISCO IP technology, amongst other things, and integrates with FTNx and a trackside fibre cable running at 100MB (as a guide, domestic superfast broadband is about 75MB).
The solution is more than ‘Digital Ready’. It is the future and its first full use (and under 25kV) is in the North West. Not only is the control from Manchester ROC lightning fast, there is capacity for much more future functionality and, just like domestic ISP (Internet Service Provider) Broadband, the system uses IP routing and switching so that, if a key part fails or requires maintenance, there is always another path available. It feels like the railway really has moved into the 21st Century.
Phase one also enabled the reintroduction of a bi-direction route to Chester via the Halton Curve. This will allow a new service between Liverpool and Chester, serving Liverpool Lime Street, Liverpool John Lennon Airport, Runcorn, Frodsham and Helsby. The plan in the future is for a two-way hourly service with connections to North Wales.
At Edge Hill the Weaver to Wavertree project team integrated with Siemens’ Liverpool Lime St team to provide a Westronic 1024 TDM to replace a life-expired Electronic Route Setting Equipment (ERSE) installed in the 1980s. This entered into service at 20:26 on 26 of December 2018.
Fast forward 100 years in 10 days
Finally, phase two, Allerton/Speke, was entered into service earlier than planned at 21:36 on Tuesday 1 Jan 2019. This six-mile section incorporated the railway between, but not including, Halewood West junction and Wavertree junction, abolished Allerton and Speke signal boxes and transferred signalling control to the Manchester ROC. Alterations to fringes at Edge Hill, Ditton (Halewood) and Hunts Cross were also undertaken. New manually reconfigurable signalling power supply points (PSP) were also created at Edge Hill PSP, Allerton ASP, and Halewood PSP.
As part of the project, the 100-year-old signal box at Speke near Liverpool was replaced with the same cutting-edge technology as described in the phase one works. Which, by coincidence, was the 100th and 101st Westlock signalling interlockings which Siemens have installed in the UK.
This complex and challenging phase saw the new signalling system introduced without incident whilst also enabling Northern Trains access into the strategic Allerton train maintenance depot. Situated near Liverpool South Parkway station, Network Rail took control of the depot in 2011, transforming it from its near-derelict state into a modern electric train maintenance facility, servicing Northern Rail’s fleet of trains. Prior to the Weaver to Wavertree resignalling scheme, not all the signalling routes were available, but full signalling access has now been provided along with electrification.
Plans are in place to demolish the Allerton and Speke signal boxes over Easter in 2019, but Runcorn signal box is a listed structure and so it will remain untouched until a new use can be found for it. With the redundant signal box being close to Runcorn station, could the local community or a local business find a useful purpose for it? Time will tell.
Ditton signal box is a relative new structure so it will also remain, although its location is such that finding a new operational or community use for it will be a challenge.
The project created a depot and compound on Network Rail land at Speke, consisting of a two-storey site office located on what was effectively waste land, which received a sustainability award early in the project. This was achieved due to a number of creative initiatives that included using refurbished second-hand cabins and material to construct the depot. Discussions are now under way for the benefits of the site to be used by the maintainer in the future.
Thanks to Jillian Buckley, Steve Whelan and Chelsea Green for their assistance with this article.