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A tale of success – 3 electrification projects that are going to plan

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Electrification schemes have been very much in the news over the last couple of years, at least so far as the railway industry press is concerned. And it’s not all been good. There is the much-publicised Great Western Electrification Programme (GWEP), since changed to the Great Western Route Modernisation, and now late and over budget. The National Audit Office has recognised that the Department for Transport did not plan and manage the project “in a a sufficiently joined up way”, that “the electrification timetable was not based on a bottom-up understanding of what the works would involve” and that “Network Rail was too optimistic about the productivity of new technology”.

Then comes the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP), over budget and running late, allegedly due to problems with new electrical clearance regulations.

So readers might be forgiven for thinking that Britain’s electrification master plan is in tatters. The truth is, it isn’t. There is more to electrification that the two programmes mentioned above, even though they form a large part of it. Some of the others are going well, and three of those are run by Carillion.

A familiar name

The name Carillion has become very familiar within the rail industry over the last twenty years. Demerging from the original Tarmac company, it did much work after railway privatisation in the early 1990s including various West Coast Route Modernisation contracts and the successful Nuneaton remodelling which included new platforms and a new link avoiding a flat crossing of the main line by Birmingham – Leicester services.

Martin Smith, managing director of Carillion Powerlines, is a civil engineer by profession. He originally joined the rail industry at around the time of infrastructure privatisation and then gained wide experience across non-rail sectors. He came back to rail after experiencing everything from highways to facilities management.

Carillion Powerlines Limited (CPL) was formed on 10 February 2014, with its registered office in Wolverhampton, as a joint venture between SPL Powerlines and Carillion. Its aim was to do business, as a significant European electrification player, with resources directed at delivering Network Rail’s ‘National Electrification Programme’ framework.

While CPL is involved in several electrification schemes, Carillion is also engaged in electrification works in its own right. Martin Smith recently met with Rail Engineer to explain what his companies are doing and how they are progressing. He was particularly pleased to be working under the Early Contractor Involvement scenario, which allows much more open development of schemes. This initiative has changed the way in which contracts are approached and has a great track record for success.
These companies are currently working on three electrification projects:

  • The line between Holytown and Midcalder between Glasgow and Edinburgh via Shotts;
  • The Midland main line from Bedford to Corby – effectively, the London to Corby scheme (the commencement of the Midland main line electrification scheme previously authorised);
  • The balance of the North West programme – from Euxton Junction via Bolton to Manchester and east from Manchester towards the trans-Pennine route.

The first two are CPL projects, the third is Carillion’s alone.

The line through Shotts

This is a £49 million contract to electrify 74km of double track railway on the Shotts line between Holytown Junction and Midcalder Junction as part of a wider £160 million Scottish Government investment in the line between Scotland’s largest cities.

The scope covers the physical delivery of all elements required to electrify the line, such as erecting structures and installing the overhead contact system. It will be carried out in tandem with structures electrification clearance work. The scheme involves station rebuilding and platform lengthening and the provision of the SCADA control system and distribution network as appropriate.

When this work is complete in 2019, electric services will be operated by the new Hitachi Class 385 units, which will offer improved reliability and increased capacity for passengers.

A site office has been set up at Cleland, just east of Motherwell, with Network Rail communicating from its Scottish office. Local presence has proved valuable to help reassure neighbours and other stakeholders in respect of their environmental concerns. This has been well managed by community liaison officers with a genuine understanding of the public’s worries.

Line access is good and contributes to long possessions and efficient installation. Consideration has been given to the use of a wiring train but good productivity is being achieved with more traditional operations, using mobile equipment work platforms and SRS road-rail lorries. The overhead contact system is of the Network Rail Master Series design.

One of the details that Martin was keen to point out was that completed foundations are easily recognisable. Instead of ad-hoc pile covers, completed piles have been sealed with high-visibility orange caps. Of a total of around 1,500 foundations, around 800 had been completed by May.

Martin emphasised that this contract award reflected the depth of experience that CPL can demonstrate in delivering infrastructure enhancements within a railway environment. It will, he believes, further enhance the relationship that has been developed with Network Rail. It was also a first for Carillion Powerlines on the National Electrification Programme.

Preview (opens in a new window)London to Corby

This scheme covers one of the last major main line routes remaining to be electrified, that of the old Midland Railway from London St Pancras to the East Midlands. The route was previously electrified as far north as Bedford as a suburban railway scheme, with intercity and freight services continuing to be run by diesel traction.

Following reviews and what was known as a ‘pause’ in the national electrification programme, instigated by the government, the project was re-started in late 2015 with the initial scope being to electrify from the current electrification boundary to the town of Corby. Thus the section of the Midland main line works tends to be known as ‘London to Corby Electrification’ even though the current focus is mostly on Bedford to Corby. However, with Thameslink enhancements coming on stream, power supply and overhead contact system works will be required on the existing electrified infrastructure south of Bedford.

The initial service scope is two trains per hour to Corby and return, but capacity for six trains per hour is expected to be required for the full Midland main line East Midlands service.

Corby is a branch off the Midland main line at Kettering North Junction and was previously served by a single-track formation. As well as the wiring of the route, the opportunity is being taken to enhance capacity with doubling of the line between Corby and Kettering and adding a fourth track between Bedford and Kettering – work being carried out by Carillion under a separate contract.

Whilst the route capacity works had been continuing, they had not included electrification and therefore a design exercise had to be undertaken to design-in the contact system and other electrification-related scope.

The overhead contact system design is based on the Network Rail developed ‘Master Series’, suitable for 100 mph running on the branch and 125mph on the main line. At this stage, with no firm decision on the distribution strategy, passive provision is being made for an Auto Transformer system. The installation is therefore being designed as a classic boosterless system.

In a bid to meet targets to start site construction works in the summer of 2017, significant advantage has been taken of existing planned access to the route with access points and construction compound sites being prepared. Devegetation has taken place with trial holes excavated for structure installation.

Maximum advantage has been taken of using Mission Room, a panoramic survey and display system which uses train-mounted cameras to capture video information. Mission Room captured and mapped the route from St Pancras to Corby and re-filming the infrastructure over the life of the project means planning and briefings have access to the latest site information. All this data, along with a specific induction package for the supply chain, may then be displayed on an Arena, Open or Portable system.

As well as minimising the need for onsite presence, details of the actual infrastructure can be fed to the designer to make allowance before final design. With the client and contractor project teams co-located, communication is much simplified.

Martin was optimistic that foundation work could start on the Kettering Corby link in the summer.

North West electrification

This North West scheme is being undertaken by Carillion alone and follows electrification of the routes linking Liverpool and Manchester.

In July 2009, Network Rail was requested by the Department for Transport (DfT) to undertake a study of Liverpool to Manchester overhead line electrification, as part of the development of the Network Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS). The DfT then requested a further study, of the ‘Lancashire Triangle’, Deal Street to Euxton Junctions (Manchester to Preston) Huyton to Wigan and Preston to Blackpool.

This led to an announcement by the DfT in 2009 of support for electrification of the Lancashire Triangle. A further announcement in 2011 added the line between Manchester Victoria and Stalybridge. Network Rail then developed a North West Electrification Programme (NWEP) split into a number of phases to deliver these works.

his project is key to the Northern Powerhouse vision and involves £160 million of work. Carillion is delivering phase four (Euxton Junction to Manchester via Bolton) and phase five (Manchester Victoria to Stalybridge). This is being done via a framework contract with the Central Infrastructure Projects organisation within Network Rail.

Another contractor undertook much of the earlier construction and design before Carillion became involved, with foundations already installed in some locations. Existing design outputs were transferred to Carillion, with the original designer retained to undertake some of the design work. This has led to an effective design cooperation protocol that has worked well.

The collaborative approach to working on NWEP has been taken one step further, with Network Rail and project partners now occupying shared office space resulting in a close-knit team that is working effectively to ensure that the programme is delivered to programme.

Foundation installation is now underway and contact system steelwork erection is expected to begin shortly. For this scheme, the electrification equipment is of the Master Series design with the scope of an autotransformer system being included.

Looking to the future

These three schemes fill a significant amount of both the Carillion and CPL workbank, allowing the companies to optimise their approaches to future projects. They are all challenging in terms of timescale and budget, but having everyone work towards the same goal with no logistical barriers is the ideal way to complete the work successfully.

Martin commented that the ‘pausing’ of the electrification scheme for the Midland main line presented a particular challenge, as people had to be reallocated across the business without any redundancies, loss of skills or key staff. Carillion’s capacity to move the available skills from the Midland main line to augment other projects across the business resulted in many of those people being relocated to work on NWEP. It also meant that the supply chain was gaining confidence as the electrification programme matured and was making its own investment in construction plant and staff.

Following the ‘unpausing’ of the Midland work, the speed at which CPL re-mobilised everyone, so they were in a strong position to start work in the summer, was also a big achievement. Carillion was able to mobilise between 120 and 130 people in a relatively short time, a very positive move which strengthened the relationship between the joint venture partners in terms of bringing people from across the UK and abroad.

Carillion is well placed to deal with further opportunities in the electrification market and looks likely to remain a major player. As well as securing its reputation, these current projects will assist the company in deciding on future electrification construction equipment investment.

Refreshing, also, is the fact that Carillion is now taking on electrification and track engineering apprentices and is also are carrying out graduate recruitment. Notwithstanding that, the company is also looking to mainland Europe for expertise to support its British operations.

Altogether, there’s a very positive future for a company that is an integral part of the United Kingdom railway infrastructure scene.

This article was written by Peter Stanton.

Read more: Electrification – an alternative approach from Siemens in Denmark


  1. As the Shotts Line between Glasgow Queens Street/Glasgow Central and Edinburgh Waverley is to be electrified via Shotts/Falkirk.

    What about electrifying the Glasgow South Western Line from Glasgow Central to Kilmarnock, Carlisle via Dumfries, Stranraer via Ayr, and electrifying the branch line to East Kilbride. As part of Scotland’s railway electrification.

    • And possibly the Border line (formerly the Waverley line) that was reopened to Tweedbank from Edinburgh Waverley and could possibly be extended to Carlisle which may also have plans to be electrified in the future.


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