HomeElectrificationA report of Network Rail's successful engineering works at Easter

A report of Network Rail’s successful engineering works at Easter

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In its review of the work on the railway infrastructure over Christmas and the New Year, Rail Engineer reported (issue 160, February 2018) that 32,000 people worked at 3,000 sites to deliver £160 million of work. The work also brought about the usual crop of sensationalist headlines in the national and regional press. As early as October the Daily Star was predicting “Christmas CHAOS” – in capitals – while the Sun predicted that “Rail passengers face ‘worst ever’ Christmas delays”.

In London, the Standard said that the capital was “Braced for chaos” and the Birmingham Mail said that “Railway works could spell train chaos”.

The Oxford Mail at least tried a different approach. “No Silent Night – ‘Noisy railway work could ruin Christmas’ in Oxford” was its headline on 10 November.

It was all very familiar, and largely ill founded as plans went off without too many problems, replacement bus services were in place and, when commuters returned to work after the holidays, their trains ran to timetable.

Move forward to Easter and it was all very different. A Google search using similar terms failed to bring up any major headlines, the first being the Richmond and Twickenham Times which simply stated that “Major engineering works are planned for South Western Railway over the Easter holidays”.

Why was the situation so different? Were no major works planned for the Easter holiday weekend?

In fact, they were. Although only half of the number of workers were mobilised – 15,800 this time – they were still active on 3,000 worksites and delivered £118 million worth of engineering work.

20 projects were identified as RED through the Delivering Work Within Possessions (DWWP) standard, therefore carrying a greater risk of overrun and/or a more significant impact in the event of an overrun, down from 40 at Christmas. These included Bristol Area Resignalling works, track lowering works at Cheetham Hill as part of the North West Electrification programme (NWEP), alongside a number of significant track, maintenance and structure renewals across the country.

On this occasion, the holiday period was a brilliant success, with no attributed delay minutes despite the large portfolio of engineering works as every one was handed back on time (at Christmas only 98.6 per cent were). And while nine injuries were reported, they were all minor in nature and no time was lost as a result.

So what work was carried out in such a successful Easter programme? For a change, let’s look at it from North to South.

Shotts electrification

Electrifying the line between Holytown junction and Midcalder junction will provide an additional electrified route between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Easter also saw the start of a ten-day blockade on the Shotts line for electrification work and a £3.5 million transformation of Livingston South station that includes widening and extending its platforms.

Over Easter, OLE equipment was installed in the Midcalder junction area. The wire runs in the junction were energised and section proving completed, but the lines will remain blocked to electric traction until full energisation of the route takes place in October 2018.


Polmadie and Rutherglen renewals

The Polmadie and Rutherglen Signalling Renewals (PARR) project involves the renewal or refurbishment of signalling and telecoms equipment in the WSSC Polmadie workstation control area, the renewal of S&C units at Rutherglen East, West and Central junctions, and the remodelling of the electrification system to align with the new track configuration.

The Easter disruptive works were a critical stage in the lead up to the commissioning of the new OLE layout. There was also follow up welding, stressing and tamping from track stage 1 renewal of plain line and new 980 points.

Motherwell North signalling renewal

To renew life expired signalling assets & relay based interlockings and relocate the signalling control from Motherwell Signalling Centre to the West of Scotland Signalling Centre (WSSC). This includes new lineside signals, telephones & cables, troughing, location cases, Westlock and WestCAD.

The Easter disruptive works were the second of three separate ‘Workstation’ phases: Newton (commissioned April 2017), Whifflet (Easter 2018) and Motherwell (August 2018). All of the works were completed as planned and included the closure of Motherwell Signalling Centre panels 2 and 3 and transfer of control to Whifflet Workstation in the West of Scotland
Signalling Centre and the commissioning of new interlockings and trackside equipment.

Polmadie workstation and Yoker East workstation fringe were handed back on Saturday morning and Edinburgh Cowlairs workstation fringe on Sunday morning.

Preston station.
Preston station.

Larkfield S&C reballast

A 76-hour possession was required to reballast two sets of points between Glasgow Central and Carstairs on the West Coast main line.

The S&C panels were disc cut and then removed using PEM self-propelled laying and renewal gantries. After excavation and the application of new stone, the panels were relayed and the track dressed, welded, stressed and tamped. The Up Clydsdale line reopened at its 40mph line speed while the Down road had a TSR imposed of 50mph.


Preston station stressing

Delivered by the works delivery unit, track stressing works in Preston station were part of the ongoing Preston to Blackpool North line upgrade. This involved rebuilding 11 bridges, remodelling 11 station platforms, replacing 11km of track, upgrading drainage and installing 84 new signals.

Only the station stressing works were classified as Red, as they could have caused operational problems on the West Coast main line if they hadn’t been handed back on time after Easter. The Blackpool line was actually closed, so those works weren’t classified.

As it happened, the opening of the line was put back three weeks due to weather conditions including ‘the Beast from the East’ and the breakdown of critical machinery. The line finally reopened on Monday 16 April.

Cheetham Hill.
Cheetham Hill.

Cheetham Hill

As part of the NWEP Phase 5 electrification, the Up and Down Rochdale Fast lines (Platforms 5 and 6 Manchester Victoria) were lowered under Cheetham Hill road bridge during a 100-hour possession to allow for the future installation of overhead line equipment (OLE). This was the final piece of advanced civils works for NWEP Phase 5, which will allow for journey time improvements between Manchester Victoria and Stalybridge.

A total of 200 metres of track was lowered, 2,300 tonnes of spoil removed and 1,920 tonnes of new ballast installed, along with additional work. Buried services and obstructions were encountered during excavation, which therefore took longer than had been anticipated. However, this was managed within the programme.

Halton Curve.
Halton Curve.

Halton Curve

The Halton Curve connects the Chester to Warrington line at Frodsham Junction with the Liverpool Crewe line at Halton Junction. During the four-day Easter blockade, works were undertaken to install a new crossover and renew the turnout at Halton Junction. This will enable bi-directional train movements on the Halton Curve, as a similar new crossover was installed at Frodsham Junction back in November 2017. The completion of the overall project in May 2018 will support the introduction of a new direct passenger service between Liverpool and Chester via this curve.

A progressive assurance check was used to enable 90mph line speed handback on the Up main – this was a first for the S&C North Alliance Crewe depot. Once tested, the points were secured out of use, ready to be commissioned by the Weaver Wavertree project during the early May Bank Holiday.

Excavation of the Down Main exposed an unidentified water mains pipe with hairline fractures. United Utilities was contacted to provide support with the repair of the damaged pipework.

Bristol Area Signalling Renewals and Enhancements

The BASRE project is part of the Western Mainline Signalling Renewals programme, which is an enabling project for the Great Western Mainline Electrification Scheme. BASRE will introduce AC-immune signalling equipment and re-lock and re-control to Thames Valley Signalling Centre (TVSC).

Stage 4 was the largest stage, as it included Bristol Temple Meads station and the complex junctions and depots within the commissioning footprint. It was the largest signalling commissioning undertaken by Network Rail, involving over 2,240 people over the 123-hour commissioning period, and introduced:

  • 355 SEUs (signal equivalent units);
  • 146 signals;
  • 130 point ends;
  • 184 location cases
  • Five new REBs (relocatable equipment buildings);
  • Four new power supply points;
  • Over a quarter of a million metres of new cable;
  • All controlled from a new desk at Thames Valley Signalling Centre, Didcot (TVSC).

Canonbury Up plain line

The single-track freight-only Canonbury Curve runs alongside Emirates Stadium and through Canonbury tunnel, connecting the North London line with the East Coast main line at Finsbury Park. Over Easter 2018, IP Track replaced 106 metres of track and a total of 588 metres of steel sleepers.

During a 52-hour possession, different methods of working were used due to the awkward location. In one section, the old rails were burned into six-metre lengths and lifted out, with new rails being installed using McCulloch handling machines. In another, panels were cut out and removed by a Kirow train, the ballast was excavated and replaced using RRVs and a bulldozer, and new track was laid using an NTC (new track construction) machine.

All planned works were completed and the possession handed back to operational traffic on time at the published handback speed of 20mph TSR. A post-handback issue with a signal fault was rectified and caused no delays to operational traffic.

Gidea Park.
Gidea Park.

Gidea Park S&C renewal

Between Gidea Park and Harold Wood stations, IP Track replaced seven point ends and four fixed diamonds in a like-for-like renewal, along with 343 metres of plain line track in a 98-hour possession.

The programme was split into two stages – the Down Main and Up Electric formed Stage 1 and the Down Electric was classified as Stage 2. Existing track was scrapped out, excavated and new base stone dropped prior to relaying. New panels were installed using two Kirow cranes, after which top ballast was applied using auto-hoppers before two Matisa tampers prepared the track for a hand back with a 50mph TSR.

Great Eastern OLE renewals

This long-running project is replacing the fixed termination OLE from Liverpool Street to Chelmsford with a modern, high-reliability auto-tensioned system. When complete, the project will have installed a total of 345 new OLE wire runs, including new support structures and associated registration assemblies.

Three wire runs were installed over Easter, one through Ilford station, one on Ilford flyover and one on the Up Electric to Down Electric crossover, totalling 4.26km. This has created a continuous 39km section of auto-tensioned OLE between Ilford and Chelmsford.

Kensal Green plain line

This renewal was on the Fast lines between Camden and Wembley on the West Coast main line – with the majority of the renewal site within Kensal Green tunnel.

The possession was planned for 78 hours and a total of 620 metres of the Down Fast Outside line was to have been removed and excavated, then replaced after a geotextile had first been laid.

Due to significant water table flooding issues, worsened by the rain, the engineering decision was made that the depth of the dig was reduced over 80 metres of the site and the sand installation was curtailed. Despite these issues, the full length of the site was renewed and handed back on time at 60mph, as opposed to the published 50mph TSR, due to quality of the installation.


New Cross Gate to Brockley

Working in a platform, with tight clearances in some areas, a 51-hour possession was required to replace some 800 metres of track on this busy commuter route into London.

Once the conductor rail had been removed, the track was removed and replaced by conventional means using a mobile flash butt welder. An RRV failed as it was leaving the site, causing the possession to be handed back 20 minutes late. However, no operational traffic was delayed, and the site was actually cleared for a handback at 60mph linespeed instead of the 50mph TSR that had been anticipated.


Fairfield underline bridge replacement

Fairfield bridge is a single span wrought iron underline bridge located four miles 1529 yards from the country end of Wandsworth Town station. Consisting of simply supported wrought-iron girders supporting rail timbers, the structure was in poor condition and deemed life expired.

The bridge deck replacement was delivered by One Team Wessex, a Network Rail and Osborne collaboration. A total of 45 operatives worked within the replacement possession, which totalled approximately 2,250 man-hours.

The existing bridge deck was replaced with four new, single span, U-type decks (steel main girders with composite floor), founded on new precast concrete cill beams. The bridge was renewed by a 45-strong team during a 99-hour possession through the use of one 750-tonne mobile land crane, one engineering train, one tamper, three RRVs and four mini-diggers.

The four newly installed tracks were reinstated on ballast and then tamped.
Lines were opened to traffic under planned 50mph TSRs on the morning of 3 April. The site team was able to complete additional track welds that were originally planned for a follow-up possession whilst handing back three and a half hours early. This helped to de-risk future stressing and welding works which allowed the line to be brought up to a full line speed of 60mph on 9 April 2018 (week 2).

Victoria Phase 2b, Sutton and Wimbledon

The Victoria Phase 2b project was initiated to re-lock and re-control the existing life-expired interlockings at Sutton and Wimbledon and renew all lineside signalling assets in the Sutton area. During a 99hr possession, the project successfully re-controlled the new signalling from Victoria ASC to Three Bridges ROC, removed redundant signalling assets, brought into use new signalling equipment and carried out the change over from track circuits to axle counters in the Sutton Interlocking Area.

In total, 70 new signals and 102 signal equipment cases were brought into use. Recovery of the redundant equipment was delayed by heavy rain and strong winds, so that work had to be rescheduled to maintain the final handover time. A hand trolley derailed and had to be recovered, although no damage was caused.

Post commissioning, three separate equipment-related issues have resulted in passenger service delays. These have been addressed and investigations are ongoing to understand the root cause.

Sevenoaks tunnel.
Sevenoaks tunnel.

Sevenoaks tunnel

And finally, or most southerly, work continued in Sevenoaks tunnel. Built in the 1860s, the Victorian tunnel is one of the longest main line tunnels in Britain. Water has been a major issue since construction, causing track, signalling and power supply to deteriorate quickly, leading to faults, delays and sometimes speed restrictions.

Reported in Rail Engineer after Christmas (issue 160, February 2018), the work is being undertaken in stages over several holiday closures to replace blocked sections of tunnel drainage on a critical section of the route. Over Easter, the team overachieved, replacing more drainage in the central six-foot than had been anticipated.

Lasting legacy

Closing sections of the railway is never popular, but is essential as Network rail strives to modernise the railway and make it more reliable for years to come. Doing this in holiday periods reduces the impact on commuters, but it does disrupt travel plans by families who are trying to get together. As there seems little chance of a suitable alternative being found, rail closures will probably continue to be a feature of national holidays for some time to come.

However, the difficulties faced by passengers is well recognised. Martin Frobisher, route managing director for the London North Western route at Network Rail, said: “There is never a good time to carry out work that affects services but we worked closely with the train operators for it to cause the least amount of disruption.”

Meliha Duymaz, Network Rail’s route managing director for Anglia, echoed this sentiment: “Our engineers successfully carried out crucial upgrades over Easter which will significantly improve journeys. This work is important to support the growth in passenger numbers and to improve reliability as part of our Railway Upgrade Plan. I’d like to thank passengers for their patience while we carried out this work.”

So that was Easter. Next up – May Day!

Read more: Read the May issue of Rail Engineer here



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