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A very busy Christmas – a run down of all Network Rail Christmas works

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The railway was very busy over Christmas. Not with passenger trains – the network was closed to passengers on Christmas Day and Boxing Day – nor with scheduled freight trains for the same reason. But there were quite a few freight trains out and about nevertheless. Mostly hauling long rakes of yellow wagons full of ballast, or sleepers, or rail, or scrap.

And these freight trains moved between groups of people all dressed in orange, and collected near clumps of yellow excavators, bulldozers and other interesting pieces of kit. It was the time of the annual Christmas Works. Over the whole holiday period, between

19 December and 5 January, Network Rail Infrastructure Projects (IP) alone mobilised 11,000 people on 2,000 work sites as part of 800 possessions taken for 322 projects. This is more work than has ever been done over Christmas before as engineers took advantage of the closedown and slow-down of the network over the holiday period.

When the various maintenance works are added in, the figures jump to 7,000 worksites across nearly 2,500 possessions over the full Christmas period – 19 December to 5 January. And then, of course, there is London Underground and various smaller networks.

Months, even years, of meticulous planning went into all of these projects. In the main they went to plan. There were a few notable failures, which you will read more about elsewhere in this issue, but only eight possessions out of the IP projects incurred an overrun – which is just 1%. And one of those was by only 11 minutes.

Some of the projects were massive. London Bridge saw major works in track and signalling, both the West Coast and East Coast main lines (WCML/ECML) were closed due to substantial work at Watford and Holloway, and the new flyover at Stockley was commissioned near Heathrow.

But that’s only four of the 322 projects. In the next few pages, Rail Engineer will also look at a few of the less-well-known ones.

Central Region

468 work sites across the centre of the country meant a very busy time for the men and women of the Midlands. The Stafford area improvement team commissioned new signals to replace life-expired ones at Stafford station in addition to some major overhead line remodelling just south of Stafford and the installation of a new four track under-track crossing. On the Norton Bridge worksite, track formation renewals took place in preparation for the installation of points in May 2015, which will facilitate the new railhead.

A new freight loop was commissioned at Bromsgrove with new signalling and telecoms equipment. This includes an operational plunger facility allowing freight trains to be ‘banked’ up the Lickey Incline (a 1 in 37 gradient). The work included the sensitive recovery of a decommissioned piece of equipment to enable the construction of two island-platforms for the new Bromsgrove Station.

A three-span underbridge carrying the SKN line over Montpellier Street, Birmingham, was replaced. The original structure was showing signs of distress including fracturing and bulging to the abutments, corrosion of the trough ends over the piers and obvious signs of water seepage.

Electrification structure clearance works continued on the Midland main line with the demolition and partial reconstruction of two twin arch overbridges in Sharnbrook and Milton Earnest just north of Bedford on the line to Kettering. The two structures were completely demolished to the precut lines and the precast cill beams and conarch units were lifted in to programme with the possession handed back on time. Final installation of the remaining conarch units will be completed during non-disruptive possessions following the Christmas works.

Scotland and the North East

A neutral section was installed at Wymondley (Corey’s Mill) and four signals converted from auto to controlled, affecting Langley Junction Interlocking and Hitchin Interlocking, as part of the East Coast Main Line Power Supply Upgrade Project.

Structural surveys of the Fall Lane Bridge, which carries two lines on the Leeds to Dewsbury route Thornhill Road, had highlighted corrosion to the web of all main girders and minor strengthening works have been undertaken in the past. Due to the level of corrosion, a complete bridge superstructure reconstruction was carried out and handed back just over an hour and a half late due to issues with landing the new bridge on its bearings.

As part of the remodelling of Hornsey depot for Thameslink, a new crossover was installed and an existing one renewed. Other track work, along with OLE (overhead line equipment) and signalling modification, was also carried out.

To improve clearances for W12 gauge freight, track was slewed at Pontefract Road Bridge on the ECML between Doncaster and Leeds and the OLE returned to its correct position. On the same route, two OLE runs were renewed by Morgan Sindall at Finsbury Park.

Fall lane [online]
Fall Lane

The twin tunnels at Carmuirs have to be electrified as part of the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Project (EGIP). As there is no clearance, the tunnels were dug out and the site converted into a cutting. A canal which crossed over the tunnel was blocked and removed and will be replaced by an aqueduct in March. The work involved excavating more than 10,000 tonnes of soil and demolition material and installing the new precast concrete portal structure using the largest mobile crane in Europe.

Southern Region

The Great Eastern overhead line renewals continued with 20 wire runs replaced over Christmas. The entire project is to replace 345 runs (168 have been completed to date) of 1940s wiring which now has very poor reliability. The new equipment installed is lighter, easier to maintain and provides a far more reliable overhead line infrastructure that also enables higher line speeds.

Two bridges were replaced as part of a programme to replace or paint 100 bridges across the Anglia route. The bridge deck of Tottenham High Road Bridge was replaced using a multi wheeled vehicle (SPMT) and the track was reinstated all within a 67hr possession, while the deck of Bridge 35 on the Gospel Oak to Barking line was replaced using a 1000 tonne crane and the track reinstated within a 100hr possession.

An under track crossing, 2.4 metres wide and 2 metres deep, was installed at Grove Park to take power cables from the nearby substation – part of the upgrade necessary to run 12-car trains on the North and Mid Kent line.

Tennison Road bridge was replaced by Graham Construction, replacing the existing life-expired road-over-rail bridge spanning the tracks running between London Bridge and East Croydon Stations. The 53.5m long by 13m wide structure was assembled off-line on the western approach embankment during November 2014. Over Christmas, the new bridge was launched and then pushed across the live railway with successful ‘touch down’ of the launch nose on the eastern pier.

Platforms at Purley had already been extended in 2013. However, the final stage, to install new LED signal heads along with associated cabling and testing, was carried out by Spencer Rail over Christmas 2014.


30 S&C units were recovered, over 3 km of plain line track removed, dug and re-ballasted and 20 new S&C units installed along with 3.5 km of plain line plus conductor rail as part of the works at London Bridge. At the same time, a complete new signalling control system, interlocking, sub-station and three new principal supply points, along with a new data communications network and all associated sub-systems were installed.

The first signalling commissioning stage of the Cricklewood Depot project was successfully completed with the testing and commissioning of two new signals, two sets of points and a banner repeater. Three signals were replaced with low maintenance LED signal heads and a fourth signal was repositioned.

The new stabling facility at Peterborough Spital Sidings will allow the new Class 700 Thameslink rolling stock to be berthed, washed, cleaned and have toilet tanks emptied at a convenient location close to Peterborough station, the North-Eastern terminus of the Thameslink route. In the weeks approaching Christmas, OLE lines were erected on new gantries and stanchions. During the Christmas 2014 blockade, these overhead lines were connected to the existing OLE that serves the ECML north of Peterborough station.

Work was undertaken at Belle Isle and inside the Canal Tunnels as part of the continuing project to connect the Midland main line and ECML to allow Thameslink trains to reach Peterborough. Two wire runs were completed along with the commissioning of the Structure Mounted Outdoor Switchgear (SMOS) on the fast lines. Enabling works were also carried out in preparation for conductor beam installation in the tunnels which commences early in February.

Western and Wales

In one of the largest schemes of the holiday period, the Reading project delivered track remodelling works at Westbury Line Junction to connect the New Main lines with the new elevated railway into Platforms 9 and 10, track slews at Whitehouse Junction and plain line between Platforms 8 and 9. The team also commissioned the new elevated railway and reopened Platform 3. All fifteen platforms are now operational for the first time.

At the same time, the Thames Valley Area (TVA) project undertook the regeneration of the new relief lines footprint and removal of 450 metres of the old main lines at Reading station, 13 OLE boom installations between Tilehurst and Pangbourne, and route clearance works at Uffington Road bridge.

The Old Oak Common and Paddington Approaches (OOCPA) project enables Crossrail services to connect to existing railway infrastructure
and provides two dedicated lines into the new Crossrail depot at Old Oak Common. A 53-hour all line block, followed by an additional 98 hours on the E&C line, was secured to undertake multidisciplinary works including UTXs, OLE works, bridge strengthening, gantry removal, p-way relay works and associated signalling works. Difficulties with certificating signalling work severely delayed handback by 374 minutes, prohibiting running of all services out of and into Paddington.

The new Stockley viaduct was brought into use to remove the conflict between the main lines and Heathrow airport lines by introducing grade separation. The P-way and OLE connections to the new flyover and viaduct were completed, including associated points-heating works encompassing four sets of points. The flyover was commissioned into service. The Up Airport line was cut back and removed, releasing space to start sheet piling to enable installation of the Section E flyover and ramp works in 2015.

The Crossrail West Outer Track Infrastructure (WOTI) project is responsible for all P-way works between Maidenhead and West Drayton, from through- alignment design to major junction remodelling, bridge reconstructions and major civils work in the area. Over Christmas, the project replaced points on the Up and Down Reliefs west of West Drayton station and 750 yards of plain line renewal. The station subway under Platform 5 was replaced with three new deck slabs to allow lifting and realigning of the track above for line speed increase to 40mph following the next stage of works in the area.

Chadwell Heath Turnback will allow stabling of a Crossrail train at the signal-controlled turnback which will be commissioned in May 2015. The Crossrail Anglia On-Network Works project installed four point ends and plain line on the turnback.

The Victorian cast-iron bridge across the River Teme at Ludlow consisted of four cast iron arches supporting wrought iron cross girders, a steel deck, and steel rail-bearers. There was substantial loss of load-bearing capability and structural stability, brittle fractures in the cast iron members, loss of connection elements, and damaged brickwork. The old bridge was removed and a new deck successfully installed, although handback was delayed from 17:30 on 30 December to start of service the following day.

harringay [online]

Two bridges over the South Wales main line were removed as part of route clearance for electrification. At Cardiff Road, a half- through structure with a steel trough deck carrying a redundant trackbed of a dismantled section of the Western Valley line was demolished by removing the bridge deck and the central pier, leaving the abutments in position. Another half- through steel structure which carried Trowbridge Road (now a footpath only) over the main line, was also demolished.

Signalling programme

East Kent Re-signalling Phase 2 (EKR2) involves the resignalling of the section of the Chatham main line between Longfield and Sittingbourne together with the Maidstone West control area on the Medway Valley line. Five point end conversions and follow up welding and stressing works were successfully completed over the Christmas period along with LOC deliveries, signal civil works and cable pulling.

The £220m Cardiff Area Signalling Renewals (CASR) project aims to renew more than 300 signals, 12 miles (19km) of track, and 59 sets of points to ease congestion in South Wales. A new ‘G’ 33.5 turnout was installed as part of the Long Dyke scheme which involves re-modelling the existing track layout between Cardiff Central and Pengam junction including removal of points and installing new crossovers. The CASR project team integrated the work from Atkins for signal testing and installation in conjunction with permanent way enhancements by Balfour Beatty Rail and new drainage.

The main signalling commissioning for the Watford Remodelling project was carried out during a 100-hour possession of the West Coast Mainline. This included installing a new Westcad workstation at Wembley Mainline SCC, 11 new signal gantries, 49 new signals and 20km of new cable. Control was transferred to Wembley Mainline SCC (signal control centre) from the old Wembley Junction power signal box, which was then abolished.

Track Programme

Renewal of Haymarket West Junction was split over two disruptive access windows over both Christmas and New Year to facilitate renewal of four ends of points and several hundred yards of plain line on the East Coast North lines, which feed traffic from the north to Edinburgh Haymarket and Waverley.

As part of the LNE switches & crossings renewals programme, one turnout and a trap plus associated plain line panels were replaced at Doncaster Decoy. The turnout is a split bearer concrete modular layout with shallow depth switches and In-Bearer POE. The trap is full depth switches with RPCL POE. Formation treatment includes 300mm min new ballast depth with sand blanket and geogrid. All S&C panels were delivered via tilting wagons and installed using two Kirow 250 cranes, and the lines were handed back at linespeed.

Like for like renewal of seven point ends at Holloway Jn on the Up Fast, Up Slow and Up Slow no.2 lines of the ECML, comprising 2 crossovers and a turnout, were undertaken over Christmas and Boxing Day. These were renewed in modern equivalent form with concrete bearers and in-bearer clamplock points operating equipment. Additionally 300yds of plain line were renewed to remove non-compliant baseplates and fastenings. The project used 16 engineering trains, two Kirow cranes and had 29 S&C panels delivered by road to site. Intermediate hand back of the Down lines was achieved on Sunday 28 December as opposed to Saturday 27 December, primarily due to plant issues arising during the scrapping out and excavation phase and ballast wagon failures during the re-ballast phase.

Three points units were renewed at Worle, between Bristol and Taunton, along with 216 metres of plain line. The track panels were delivered to site using a part of the new fleet of tilting wagons recently purchased by NSC and a Balfour Beatty Rail Kirow 1200. Due to issues at the beginning of the possession (last minute road delivered panel unable to be lifted onto track by Kirow, poor scrapping out methodology and signalling issues near Westbury yard trapping an engineering train) the decision was taken to skim dig the entire layout. The possession overran by 142 minutes.

_MG_4873 [online]

Carillion carried out a plain line track renewal at Carlisle Station over the Christmas Period due to life expired track components. 540 yards were replaced on the bi-drection Main through Platform 4. Unforeseen ground conditions slowed the excavation which resulted in the rail stressing works being cancelled.

The same contractor replaced 410 yards of formation renewal at Thrimby Grange. The work took place over two weekends, and was completed on time although the haulage contractor did not supply train drivers for all locos for the full duration of the works, as had been agreed.
The works at Pitstone were an accelerated track renewal brought forward at the request of LNW Route to reduce the risk of a pending temporary speed restriction (TSR). Renewal of 440 yards of formation treatment and 353 yards of associated drainage works took place during a 54-hour possession which began on Christmas Eve.

410 yards of life expired rail, sleepers and ballast were renewed on the Up Fast line at Harringay (North London) on the East Coast main line. The work included the installation of new UIC60 continuously welded rail on new G44 concrete sleepers, the replacement of existing ballast to a depth of 300mm below sleeper bottom plus the installation of a geotextile separator and completion of site welding and re-stressing works.

Life-expired track was also replaced through Platform 5 at Stratford on the Up Electric. The site is complex, with the London Underground (LUL) Central Lines running either side of the Up Electric. There are also Victorian era station subways and LUL Central Line tunnels, with numerous units of S&C around Stratford station, limited site access points and multiple cables/ buried obstructions. During the possession, previously unknown LUL cables were uncovered which were not able to be disconnected and a concrete plinth beneath a dividing fence slowed excavation progress. A mitigation plan was implemented and a reduction of yardage agreed to ensure LUL Central Line was handed back on time.

Two high-output track renewals teams were in action over Christmas. The Crewe-based Track Renewal System 4 (TRS4) was deployed between Dallam Junction and Winwick Junction on the West Coast main line and the Bletchley- based team deployed High Output Ballast Cleaner 4 (BCS4) south of Rugby Station between Nortoft and Hillmorton. TRS4 achieved 1.3 miles (2135 metres) of continuous welded rail while BCS4 completed 1.7 miles (2700 metres).

So that was Christmas 2014. It wasn’t faultless, as well as the eight overruns there were 2 RIDDOR accidents – one involving a fractured hand on site at Cardiff and the other at Stockley where a trainee OLE linesmen lost sight in his left eye. There was one dangerous occurrence reported – at Stockley where a trolley was struck by a passenger train travelling to Paddington from Heathrow – and two significant events – one at Reading where possession limit boards were incorrectly placed preventing the running of an engineering train and the other at Stockley where a MEWP ran through a set of points derailing a trailer.

However, a lot of good work was done.

Thanks to Nick Greer, programme manager at Network Rail Infrastructure Projects, and his team for compiling this information.


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