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Forget HS2. The next big set of railway projects in the UK will be the mass electrification of the Great Western, the Midland Main Line, the Welsh valleys, a major freight route running north from Southampton and large portions of the North West.

The first high-output electrification train is under construction in Germany, and Network Rail is already planning how it will deliver the various projects. In order to share these plans with the industry, and to discus the challenges they will produce, a conference was held recently at Westwood in Coventry, and the rail engineer was invited to attend.

Phil Bennett, finance and commercial director for the Southern Region, welcomed the 120 delegates and explained that the purpose of the conference was to have early engagement with the supply chain. It is critical for Network Rail that suppliers share the challenge, understand the commitments and identify opportunities and actions that need addressing in advance of CP5.

Safety first

As always, safety comes first, and Rob Sherrin presented an update on the National Isolation Review. Rob talked about accidents and incidents around electrification and how Network Rail is making a major step change in behavioural improvements.

Delegates were then shown a video which featured Network Rail plant and distribution technician Kieren Brown. Kieren was involved in a very serious accident in July 2009 and is now using that experience to help promote good working practice around electrical equipment. His full story appears in Network Rail’s Aspects magazine for July/August 2012.

Network Rail has undertaken several other safety initiatives. It has engaged with the ORR, and a workshop has been held around strategic design changes that can be applied to achieve safer working on the AC network. Trials of a new capacitive live line indicator and a localised earthing device are underway.

Rob summarised by saying that the aim is to reduce the unacceptable number of electrical-related injuries in the industry through gaining stakeholder alignment across the whole of Network Rail, the contracting community and the safety enforcement organisations. Currently, there are over 80,000 workers who hold a competence around either AC/DC work on the Sentinel record scheme and these need to be encouraged to always have a valid permit to work where required, always test before applying earths and never assume equipment is isolated but always test before touching.

An overview

Nick Elliott, Southern regional director, gave an overview of the newly formed Infrastructure Projects business which is divided into four regions. Nick is taking the lead on electrification, so he went on to talk about the challenges of CP5 when Network Rail will move from electrifying 20km of track per annum to in excess of 1000km per annum – no easy task.

Currently, Network Rail is working on the North West Electrification programme as well as Maidenhead to Cardiff on the Great Western. In 2013 the Welsh valley lines, the Midland Main Line, and Basingstoke to Reading will be added and the DC to AC conversion between Poole and Basingstoke will take place.

However, by the time CP5 starts in April 2014, the work load becomes even greater as TransPennine Electrification will commence, the Cardiff to Swansea element of the Great Western main Line comes into effect and the Oxford to Coventry/Nuneaton and the Gospel Oak to Barking work starts. By this time there will be 11 major electrification projects running at the same time.

Yet more work will start in 2016 – the remaining part of the Electric Spine between Oxford Bletchley and Bedford will commence, as well as Hope Valley between Sheffield and Mansfield. 2016 will be the boom year for electrification across the whole network.

As well as new electrification projects, there will be a lot of improvements and renewals to existing installations. This will include replacing catenary, renewing contact wires and electrifying neutral sections. There will be OLE structure renewals, DC cable replacement, HV cable refurbishment and new air-insulated vacuum switchgear. At the same time, unit costs need to be reduced down by 20-30% as part of the general efficiency drive on the railways, so innovation will be required to achieve all this whilst having limited access to track.

In Nick’s own Southern region, he will be responsible for installing new switchgear, rectifiers and transformers as part of the Southern power supply – a project worth £450 million. The 1950’s OLE will be replaced by modern, tensioned electrified lines in the Great Eastern area (£100 million), the Gospel Oak to Barking freight link will be electrified (£50 million), the current DC system to 25kV overhead Line between Basingstoke, Southampton and Poole (£150 million) and there will be an upgrade to some systems as part of a national SCADA programme (£80 million).

Go West

Lindsay Vamplew, fresh from the successful delivery of the rebuilt Blackfriars station, is now electrification project director for Wales and the West. With EMUs due to run between Newbury and Oxford in December 2016, IEP also coming in between London Paddington and Bristol at the same time, and then on to Cardiff one year later, he has his work cut out.

A plan is being developed around working in 7 to 8 hour possessions between Sunday and Thursday, with longer 8-10 hour possessions on Fridays and Saturdays. Each evening, the team will normally take three two-mile possessions on one line – the adjacent line will still operate at 20-60 miles per hour. Approximately 80% of the work will be carried out using high-output processes, while the remaining 20% will be delivered by more traditional methods. An immense amount of work will need to be done with 13,784 piles, 1,427 concrete foundations and 13,078 structures all on the “to do” list.

Contracts have already been awarded for power supplies at Didcot, Melksham and Imperial Park. Design and delivery of the high output system has been awarded to Windhoff and a contract for its operation and maintenance and programme delivery has been won by Amey. Initial system designs will be by Furrer + Frey.

Work currently underway includes the design and build of the HOOB (high output operations base) near Swindon, which is due to be completed by March 2013.

The bit in the middle

Plans for the Midlands and the North were next on the agenda. Ellen Wintle spoke about power supply requirements for the West Coast Main Line. Contracts for new power supplies for phase 3A, between North Wembley and Whitmore (south of Crewe) have been awarded, and tenders are in for phase 3B (Whitmore to Great Strickland near Penrith). This latter includes some 240km of 25kV auto transformer feeder, 120km of return screening conductor, 11 new 25kV distribution sites and modification to several existing ones, removal of 100 booster transformers and recovery of redundant 25kV equipment.

The remaining CP4 renewals work on the North West DC network includes substation and switchgear renewals and new protection relays, with further substation and switchgear renewals, signalling distribution renewals and OLE refurbishment on the slow lines being carried over to CP5.

Mark Royle took up the electrification story in the North West and described how the work was being delivered in five phases. Phase 1, from Manchester to Newton-Le-Willows, will be completed by December 2013 and phase 2, from Newton-Le-Willows to Liverpool and from Huyton to Wigan, is out for tender as a single multi-disciplined package for delivery by December 2014. To be delivered during CP5 are phase 3 – Preston to Blackpool North, Phase 4 – Manchester Victoria to Euxton Junction and Phase 5 – Manchester Victoria to Stalybridge.

Shahin Ali was the final presenter for the Central region with a look at the Midland Main Line. Confirmed in the recent HLOS statement, the line will be electrified between Bedford and Sheffield via Derby with a spur to Corby from Kettering and another to Nottingham from Trent Junction. The existing OLE equipment between Bedford and Borehamwood will be converted to Auto Transformer Feeder (ATF).

Included in the workload are structure clearances at 115 separate locations and parapet works at 100 overbridges. Two new National Grid supply points will be required and will be installed at Ratcliffe on Soar and at either Bray Brooke or Irchester. There will be 17 new distribution switchgear/ transformer sites, in the region of 10,000 OLE support structures and around 530 single track kilometres of wiring.

The structure clearances already mentioned comprise 57 bridge reconstructions, 33 track lowers using conventional means and a further 13 using MOBC (medium output ballast cleaners), 11 bridge jackings and one bridge slide.

Some of the work will be quite complex. Bridges at both ends of Leicester Station need greater clearances, yet both have a shopping complex on top of them. A similar bridge at Nottingham Station is under the station building itself. Lowering King Street bridge at Belper will require major reconstruction of the station next to it, and Toadmoor Tunnel is a listed structure with a restrictive profile and an invert that will be difficult to lower.

And finally – the North

Andy Wilson was the final presenter of the morning on the Northern and Scottish Region. Andy talked about Paisley Canal, the East Coast Power Upgrade phase 1 and 2 and TransPennine electrification.

The Paisley Canal scheme is currently being designed and constructed by Babcock in an £11 million scheme due for delivery this year. To allow for a quick delivery, clearances will allow only the current trains to use the line, rather than any UK rolling stock. Adopting this special reduced OLE clearance removed the need to modify three structures, reducing both cost and time.

The TransPennine Electrification Project, on the other hand, has 297 bridges along the route from Stalybridge and Colton/Selby. Of these, two will need to be removed, 40 reconstructed, 20 have the track lowered through them, and 31 will need the parapets to be modified. A lot of work.

Andy also mentioned EGIP – the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme, but as funding was recently cut by the Scottish Government that has all gone back to the planning stage.

Two power supply projects are underway though. Phase one is to improve the traction power supply between Wood Green (north London) and Bawtry (near Doncaster) – a distance of 230 kilometres. 600km of autotransformer feeder and 20 new autotransformer sites will replace 300 booster transformers with a corresponding reduction in the number of DNO (distribution network operator) supply points.

Phase two extends that traction power enhancement another 374 kilometres from Bawtry north to Longniddry near Edinburgh. Once again autotransformer and sectioning sites with their associated switchgear buildings will be constructed, and the old booster transformers removed.

What a programme

At the end of these presentations, delegates were struggling to come to terms with the sheer scale of the programme they had just had outlined. Gearing up the industry will no doubt present opportunities for both training and labour supply companies, not to mention all the civils and electrification work that will take place to deliver what is so glibly called “the electrification programme”.

Electrification is a subject that will run for years to come. The December issue of the rail engineer will be looking at the subject in more detail in an Electrification Focus, with reports on some of the projects and some of the equipment being used. Make sure that you get hold of a copy.


  1. In Nick’s own Southern region… …the Gospel Oak to Barking freight link will be electrified (£50 million)…

    Have I missed an announcement somewhere?

    • Someone either Paul or Nick have jumped the gun, because no announcement has been made on the Goblin. Network Rail are still, still awaiting confirmation of funding. By the ORR.

      • Morning Dave and Ian, I have been following the conversation this week, just been in conference for a couple of days. I am going to be seeing Nick on Tuesday so I can ask him further about this specific project of works in his region. As I understand it Gospel Oak – Barking Freight Route is due to start 2014-and run to 2017 so yes it is CP5 but it certainly seems the Government has an appetite to support any Freight improvements that can take cars/lorries off the road. I should see Nick on Tuesday so will feed back afterwards

  2. I like the sound of when most non-electrified railway routes are going to be electrified to AC 25kv Overhead and DC 750v 3rd rail in the near future to replace the Intercity Diesel trains, DMU’s and Freights and have more Intercity Electric Trains, EMU’s and Electric Freight Trains.

    Trams are also very good for replacing buses in major cities that havent got any light rail system including Exeter, Norwich, York, Leeds, Birmingham, Derby, Cambridge whilst other cities including Manchester, London, Sheffield, Nottingham, Edinburgh & Blackpool who do have these trams and London has the DLR. Its about time that other cities should concider having trams in the future as possible.

    • Thanks for the comment against my article Andrew.

      I am going to be working on a Light Rail and Tram article in November for publication in December, you don’t happens to work for the Light Rail and Tram Association do you Andrew?

      • No. I’m interested in what trains are going to help if most lines will be electrified in 5 or 10 years time so I was wondering that other major cities should coincided of having trams and light rail.

        I come from Norwich and currently live in Essex but Norwich needs new trams to replace most buses in and around Norwich.

  3. This article is very misleading for, although it appears in the edition of Rail Engineer dated 17 October 2012, I understand it is based on a Network Rail briefing four months previously, in June — and a month before the Government’s High Level Output Specification was published.

    For example, the article states “DC to AC conversion between Poole and
    Basingstoke will take place.” But the HLOS only refers to Southampton to Basingstoke changing to AC electrification (as part of the new North-South spine extending northwards to link with the West Coast Main Line at Nuneaton)

    Then the article refers to electrification of the Gospel Oak-Barking line during CP5, starting in April 2014. But the HLOS made no reference at all to Gospel Oak-Barking (a barking mad situation, some might say, but nonetheless the route was not included, while the Thames Valley branch lines of the Great route, which were not referred to by Paul Curtis in his article, were added to electrification plans … other than West Ealing-Greenford which, like Gospel Oak-Barking, is in Transport for London territory).

    Then there is reference to “Hope Valley between Sheffield and Mansfield” which makes no sense at all. There are no proposals for electrification of the Hope Valley in the HLOS or the Northern Hub proposals, and mention of Mansfield is not explained — for it is not served from Sheffield, but lies on the Robin Hood line between Worksop and Nottingham.

    Reference to “EMUs due to run between Newbury and Oxford in December 2016” des not make sense, either. I don’t believe there is any proposal to run electric trains between Newbury and Oxford, rather between Paddington, Reading and both locations. Also the article fails to point out that with the continuing failure to conclude the contract with Siemens for new Thameslink rolling stock there may be no EMUs to cascade to the Thames Valley routes in 2016, nor for much of the North West electrification schemes referred to by Paul Curtis. These trains cannot just be moved overnight from one route to another, but need substantial refurbishment, for which time (and employment for the domestic supply chain) is running out.

    Then there is mention of trains passing the high-output electrification train on the opposite line at 20-60mph — but it is my understanding that the ORR has said this speed restriction is not necessary, which is important due to the high demand on the remaining line capacity.

    Mention of a power supply at Melksham is odd, since there are no plans for electrification in that area —although I understanding FGW has pressed for electrification to be extended beyond Newbury to Westbury, and on to Bathampton and Thingley Junction to provide a diversionary route. But, again, there was no mention of this in the HLOS.

    As for the Midland Main Line, reference is made to “two new National Grid supply points” but my understanding is that, following the surprise inclusion in the HLOS of plans to electrify the East-West route between Oxford and Bedford, bringing an additional four electric trains per hour to the MML at Bedford, the need for a third feeder station is now being examined. Three sub-stations would also have the benefit of providing sufficient contingency to permit later electrification of the route north of Corby via Melton Mowbray to Syston Junction, of the Erewash Valley line, the Matlock branch and, perhaps, Leicester-Nuneaton.

    We must all wait until Network Rail publishes its Strategic Business Plan next January to see what it will finally propose for inclusion in CP5 — which, of course, will be subject to final determination by the ORR. Let’s hope projects such as Gospel Oak-Barking are included. But currently this major freight route, which will be a significant link with the London Gateway port when it opens next year, remains excluded from the HLOS.

  4. There is to be an interface between the National Grid and the OHL for the GWML south of Thingley Junction just outside the town of Melksham, it is at this location two main National Grid power lines come together.


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