HomeElectrificationAn orange Christmas: Network Rail’s works over the 2018 Christmas holiday

An orange Christmas: Network Rail’s works over the 2018 Christmas holiday

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As usual, Network Rail took advantage of the Christmas and New Year holiday to undertake some of the lengthier and more onerous projects that the renewal and enhancement of the railway network demands.

Christmas is therefore a good time for Network Rail. The 50 per cent drop in demand for rail travel, coupled with the closure of the network on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, means that routes can be closed for substantial work with train replacement bus services only having to cope with half the number of passengers that they would at other times of the year.

However, Christmas is also a bad time of year for Network Rail. Those same closures spark the usual “Travel Chaos over Christmas” banner headlines in both the tabloid press and in publications that should know better.

The timing is also not good. The timetable changes mid-December – this time it was on the ninth – and of course any teething trouble with the new arrangement is always Network Rail’s fault.

And then new fares come in at the start of January, and that’s Network Rail’s fault too! So the nationalised infrastructure owner gets plenty of stick in the press at the turn of the year.

The public understands

However, not everyone blames Network Rail for it all. A recent YouGov Omnibus survey found that a majority of Britons (56 per cent) say that ensuring commuter journeys aren’t disrupted by scheduling repairs on bank holidays and the days after Christmas is the best option – even if it risks disruption for those trying to get home to see friends and family.

Fewer than one in five (18 per cent) took the opposing view – that repairs should take place so as not to disrupt people during holiday periods, even if that impacts regular commuters.

Even the majority (57 per cent) of those travelling by train in the post-Christmas period backed making the repairs that could hold them up. That being said, this group was more likely than the public as a whole to think that commuter journeys should be disrupted instead (27 per cent).

Unsurprisingly, rail commuters answered in their own interest. Two thirds (66 per cent) of those who commute by rail thought repairs should take place at this time of year and in bank holidays. So at least some of the population understands Network Rail’s point of view.


Mobilised workforce

So, as usual, a small army (actually, quite a large army!) of men and women in orange forsook their Christmas turkey to work on the railway. Over 28,000 people worked at 4,000 worksites across 1,100 possessions and 330 projects to deliver major enhancements, core renewals and maintenance works across the rail network.

Some, of course, were larger than others, and some were more critical.

Approximately 30 jobs contained worksites identified as ‘RED’ through the Delivering Work Within Possessions (DWWP) standard, defined as carrying a greater risk of overrun and/or having a more significant impact in the event of an overrun. These included signalling, OLE and track works at King’s Cross and Holloway, overhead line renewals at Forest Gate junction as part of the Great Eastern main line upgrade and station works at Edinburgh Waverley.

Overall, 383,000 hours were worked and £148 million spent, with 98.7 per cent of all possessions handed back on time. At Preston, there was a two-hour overrun on 27 December owing to an RRV break down and at Westbury on 4 January, significant complications experienced in the signal testing period, requiring signalling modifications and issues with the wiring interlocking, resulted in 2,208 delay minutes, the worst of any project over the holiday period.

Safety, as always, was a top priority. A total of 12 accidents that resulted in injury were reported, of which three resulted in lost time injuries.

One was at Westbury, where the injured person was struck by a dropped panel, resulting in four broken bones – the team was stood down to be re-briefed on the site safety messages.

Another notable accident occurred when the two front wheels of a Mobile Elevated Working Platform (MEWP) derailed whilst in transit at Camden carriage sidings on the LNW route due to a track twist fault. The linesman and operator were clipped to the basket at the time and sustained soft tissue damage.

Two road traffic accidents were reported during the period, with no resulting injuries.

Map of RED sites- Christmas 2018.

Around the country

Five projects stood out from the others, and these have their own reports elsewhere on this website. All of the RED jobs are outlined below, running anticlockwise from Greenhill Lower, at the top left of the map shown here.

Greenhill Lower S&C – During two possessions over the holiday period, 23:00 on 24 December to 05:20 on the 27th, then 23:00 on 31st until 05:20 on 3 January, S&C North Alliance (Amey, Rhomberg Sersa and Network Rail working together) was to reballast points using a vactor and engineering trains, and laid 500 yards of plain line track. The S&C was handed back as planned, but a road-rail vehicle failing during the digging out triggered the contingency plan so only 400 yards of plain line was completed to ensure that the site was handed back on time and at the planned 50mph TSR.

Salkeld Street PLTR – In two mobilisations over Christmas and the New Year (24-26 December and 31 December-2 January), Babcock Rail replaced 313 yards of plain line track at Salkeld Street, Glasgow. A troughing route was discovered in the dig on the second possession, preventing full dig depth being achieved over a 40-metre distance. Both possessions were handed back on time at 20mph line speed.

York IECC Re-control – As the old York IECC was life expired and unalterable, this project called for the re-control of the existing the VDU-based signalling control system (VSCS) in York IECC onto a new VSCS in York ROC, as well as the re-control of the full geographical limits of York IECC, which will be updated from IECC Classic to Scalable.

The Re-control area covers 250 miles of railway and 45 Stations. Over Christmas, all principles testing and confidence testing was completed ahead of schedule. IECC 1 was signed into use early for indication purposes to facilitate emergency track works at Thirsk.

All workstations were signed in to use at 00:50 with the possession handed back early at 02:29.

Preston Fylde.

Preston Fylde S&C – The LNW Works Delivery Unit delivered 90 metres of plain line track renewal and also renewed S&C. It was a full renewal, including replacement of all components and 250mm of ballast below sleeper bottom.

Nottingham station canal bridge – Nottingham Canal underbridge is a two-span structure supporting the Up Newark, Down Newark and the Eastcroft Down Sidings lines. There is also a redundant deck carrying no lines, and the decks also carry several cable troughs, service/utility pipes and walkways. Nottingham station is to the east of the structure. The two Up Newark spans were replaced and the track reinstated. Minor S&T relocations were implemented to facilitate the new bridge and the redundant deck was removed during the Christmas blockade.

All works were handed back on time at linespeed (15mph).

Weaver-WavertreeThe subject of a separate article, the Weaver to Wavertree project is replacing signalling assets along this route that were in poor condition, already life extended and no longer serviceable, as well as recontrolling the area to the Manchester ROC.

NWEP 5 – Phase 5 of the North West Electrification programme, due to be complete in time for the May 2019 timetable change, will provide new overhead lines around the Manchester Victoria area, with provision for this to be extended to Stalybridge. It will also provide power and high-voltage cabling for Phase 4, which runs from Manchester to Bolton. The possession limits changed a number of times, with the blockade being ten days long in total from 24 December to 2 January. OLE and wiring works were carried out at Manchester Victoria, along with installation of 95 yards of new track drainage at Ashton station and an HV cable route to supply power for Phases 4 and 5. The possession was also used to install approximately 55 yards of new track drainage at Bolton station, where 300mm diameter cess and 10-foot drainage was tied into two existing outfalls with UTXs under the Platform 5 loop line and the Up and Down Bolton lines.

Birmingham New Street – Several sets of points (S&C) at and around Birmingham New Street station were converted over to SPX Clamplock operation as they are more reliable than the various legacy points machines currently in use.

Hampton in Arden.

Birmingham International drainage – A total of 420 metres of 300mm cess drainage was installed between Hampton in Arden station and Birmingham International station, directing water away from these stations in a heavily used area of the network, reducing the risk of flooding. In total, some 800 metres of cess drainage and off track/drainage outfalls are being installed in these locations.

Milton Keynes.

Milton Keynes Platform 6 – The scope of work for plain line track renewal through Milton Keynes station Platform 6 consisted of two renewals:

CAT 14 (Rerail, Resleeper, Reballast, Formation – Trax) for 600 yards and CAT 15A, the associated drainage renewal, for 417 yards. All of the planned volume was completed, albeit with a reduced dig depth of 300mm. The possession was handed back to operational traffic on time and at 125mph line speed (rather than the planned post-construction 60mph TSR). This site was Network Rail IP Track’s 100th higher speed handback on conventional plain line/S&C renewals this year.

Bletchley Flyover – OLE enabling works took place underneath and around Bletchley Flyover on the West Coast main line with the installation of nine piles and structures. Re-profiling of the OLE underneath the flyover, due to take place later in the spring, will remove current non-conformances through the area, improving reliability and reducing future maintenance.

Kentish Town slab track stabilisation – One and a half miles north of St Pancras station, the Midland main line (and Thameslink) passes through Kentish Town tunnel. The track here is on an old Paved Concrete Track (PACT) slab, and that badly needed renewing. Over a 10-day blockade, 314 yards of the old slab was removed and replaced with ballasted track, two squaring-off precast concrete units supported on five 10-metre-long piles and a new pumped drainage system in the six-foot. To add to the challenge, the project experienced a high number of plant failures, an OLE contact wire was hit by an excavator bucket during excavation of the Down Fast line and the concrete slab also had a higher percentage of steel reinforcement than had initially been expected.

Wembley North S&C – S&C South Alliance was tasked with the installation of new OLE associated with the four crossover track renewal completed during August in order to lift the BTET (Blocked to Electric Traction) for North Wembley Junction. All of the planned works were completed and the possession handed back on time to operational traffic at line speed (90mph Slows, 125mph Fasts).

Willesden North junction – During a 53-hour possession on the West Coast main line, between West London junction and Harlesden, the S&C Alliance south installed 525 metres of track drainage in readiness for three crossover renewals in CP6 – 250 metres on the Fast lines, including cross track drainage, and 275 metres on the Slow lines. All of the planned works completed and the possession handed back on time to operational traffic at line speed (75mph slows, 90/110 and 90/120 Fasts).

Euston HS2 enabling works – Established to deliver various requirements on behalf of HS2 in and around the area of Euston station, these enabling works also included approximately one mile of the operational railway north of the station. The site of the future HS2 station in Euston is currently occupied by Network Rail platforms and other operational railway systems infrastructure. Clearing the site to create the necessary space required the decommissioning and recovery of existing operational infrastructure, carried out over the Christmas holiday to ensure the timetable can be maintained once Platforms 17 and 18 at Euston station are removed in May 2019.

Southall East S&C – To the east of Southall station, between Hanwell and Northolt stations on the line from Paddington to Heathrow Airport junction, the S&C South Alliance renewed four point ends and about 300 metres of associated plain line. The works involved renewing ballast, sleepers, rail, new points-heating equipment and OLE adjustments. The introduction of a Hy-Drive Backdrive points machine was also included within the project. With all of the work completed on time, the site was handed back at 90mph line speed on the relief lines and 90mph TSR on the main lines as opposed to the published 50mph TSR.


Westbury North – This was actually two projects combined into one possession. The S&C South Alliance renewed 12 separate switches, along with their associated crossings and 538 metres of plain line track, to allow trains from Newbury and Bath to get to all the different platforms at Westbury station. In addition, signalling and power equipment was moved out of the way in order to make Platforms 2 and 3 at Westbury station longer. The longer platforms, which will be built after Christmas, are to facilitate the introduction of new Class 802 trains for Great Western Railway. The possession overran to 23:57 on Friday 4 January, as opposed to the planned hand-back time of 04:00, due to complications experienced in the signal testing period toward the end of the possession requiring signalling modifications. A full report can be found here.

Factory Jn-Stewarts Lane – The team from Colas Rail replaced 372 yards of track using RRVs to dig out 200mm of ballast and replace it with new ballast on a geotextile layer. EG47 concrete sleepers and CEN56 rail was used, with the rails being welded and stressed. All of the planned works were completed and the possession handed back to operational traffic on time at 25mph line speed.

Upper Kennington Lane – Upper Kennington Lane bridge at Vauxhall station is a single-span structure consisting of seven decks supporting eight tracks and station platforms over the A3036 main road.

The wheel-timbered and steel-bearer track support system on Track 6 (Brighton main line Down Main Fast) has been a significant performance risk which has been subjected to emergency speed restrictions and reactive repairs in CP4. Over Christmas, the wheel timbers and steel bearers were removed after preparation of the existing cross girders, thick steel deck plates and ballast boards were installed, waterproofing added and ballasted track laid, including welding of the running rails. The track opened up at linespeed (50mph).

Canterbury S&C – Another busy junction was renewed at Canterbury West over Christmas Day and Boxing Day, with five pre-fabricated track panels being carefully lifted into place by a road crane from the adjacent car park. The panels were constructed by a specialist contractor in Yorkshire and were delivered to site in advance, ready for installation.

Battersea Pier JunctionAs is reported in a dedicated article, the S&C South Alliance delivered the renewal of 12 point ends and a fixed diamond crossing, including 330 metres of plain line, at Battersea Pier junction to improve asset reliability and give a smoother ride over the section of renewed track. All of the planned works were completed and the possession handed back on time to operational traffic at 45mph line speed.


Felixstowe Enhancement – The works to enhance capacity on the Felixstowe branch includes a new 1.4 km ‘loop’ line in the area of Trimley as well as two new crossovers, a new bridleway bridge and an upgrade of barrier protection at four level crossings, with all pedestrian crossings on the line being closed. Capacity will increase from 32 trains each way per day to 47. During a six-day possession over Christmas, the two new crossovers and a turnout were installed, linking the previously completed loop to the infrastructure but with the switches clipped and padlocked. The bases for the bridleway bridge were constructed, signaling power upgraded and new troughing installed.

King’s Cross remodeling – Planned for completion in March 2021, this remodeling of the King’s Cross throat area will ensure that standard S&C units are used rather than complex units. Life expired infrastructure will be replaced to ensure the station is operationally robust in time for the full deployment of the new Class 800/802 trains on the East Coast main line. The eastern bore of Gasworks tunnel will be reinstated to ensure enhanced capacity and operational flexibility. New interlocking will be provided to King’s Cross and Holloway in order for the first stage of ETCS to be implemented at a future date and panels 1-3 of Kings Cross Signal Box (Kings Cross, Holloway, Moorgate, Finsbury Park and Wood Green) will be re-controlled to York ROC. Passive platform provision for 12 car IEP sets will be provided. Enabling works over the Christmas holiday included the installation of four under-track crossings (UTX) at Belle Isle and FTNx telecommunications network cable diversions.


Holloway Down S&C – Situated between King’s Cross and Harringay, the S&C North Alliance (Amey, Rhomberg Sersa and Network Rail working together) replaced S&C and plain line using a Kirow crane in a possession from 22:00 on 24 December to 04:00 on the 27th. All of the planned works were completed and the possession handed back to operational traffic on time and at line speed – 80mph on Fasts, 55mph on Slows (as opposed to the 50mph TSR previously booked on both lines).

Forest GateAnother project to benefit from its own article, the Great Eastern Overhead Line Renewal project is replacing the old fixed termination, formerly DC, Overhead Line Equipment (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. 11 wire runs were completed at Christmas, 12.5km of wire in total, created a continuous section of auto-tensioned OLE from Stratford to Chelmsford (42km).

Priory Lane bridge – Situated in a semi-rural area in the village of Little Wymondley, to the South-East of Hitchin and the North-West of Stevenage, Hertfordshire, Priory Lane underbridge is a single span, four deck structure with decks separated by air gaps. It carries four electrified, ballasted tracks of the East Coast main line. The Down Slow underbridge was replaced over Christmas, with the track and S&T equipment being reinstated. Collision protection beams were also added to help prevent damage from bridge strikes. The contingency plan had to be implemented (cold welded track joints) to ensure on time handback, meaning the Down Slow would require additional stressing and welding at a later date and necessitating a temporary speed restriction.

Fletton North junction – The Peterborough Down Slow (PDS) project will replace two units of switches and crossings, upgrade the signalling and increase the line speed along a stretch of track south of Peterborough station. The cumulative impact of these changes will mean that trains can enter Peterborough station more quickly, crossing from the Down Fast to the Down Slow to access Platforms 4 and 5, which will allow more trains to run in the same period. Christmas work included modifications to the 650V signaling power supply, OLE re-registrations and signaling testing.

Wellingborough North junctionThe subject of a separate report, 10 point ends at Wellingborough North Junction were renewed using Network Rail’s Kirow 1200 rail crane.

Approximately 600 metres of the new Up Slow line which will be used as the head shunt until the main commissioning in December 2019. Sections of the Down Fast, Up Fast and Down Slow plain line, associated with the above points, were also renewed. To challenge the team, the tamper suffered a terminal failure of its drive shaft.

Eastfield Road.

Eastfield Road bridge – Network Rail is undertaking a third-party funded project to provide W12 gauge clearance to the rail corridor between Doncaster (Marshgate) and Immingham Docks. At Eastfield Road overbridge (a three-span arch structure with a skew of 18 degrees, dated circa 1911), an assessment found the structure to have foul clearances to the W12. Over the Christmas and New Year holiday, two outer arches were infilled with concrete and the centre arch demolished ready for new Con-Arch installation. However, the concrete arches were unable to be installed as planned due to uncharted services being found within the footprint of the crane outrigger location the week before the possession. This posed a significant risk to the lift that was unable to be redesigned in time for the possession.

Edinburgh Waverley station – Platform extensions are required at Edinburgh Waverley to accommodate longer trains being introduced on both the Edinburgh to Glasgow via Falkirk route and the East Coast main line. Platforms 5 and 6 will be lengthened to accommodate new 10 car electric Azuma trains and Platform 12 lengthened to accommodate eight-car electric trains. A new train path, which has been previously unavailable, will be created out of Platform 10 to routes north of the station. Over the Christmas holiday, new OLE was installed on Platforms 5 and 6 as well as a new signal gantry on Platform 10, and Platform 19 was resurfaced. The crane that was to lift in the new signal gantry failed, so work had to be re-planned but was completed on time.

Overall success

In all, it was a successful holiday work programme. One major delay and three lost-time injuries out of 330 projects undertaken by 25,000 people working over 380,000 hours, costing Network Rail £148 million.

Commenting on these figures, Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said: “I’m so pleased that we have delivered for passengers and freight users over the Christmas period, safely completing more than 300 improvement projects around the network.

“I realise that it has been cold and wet out there, and that many colleagues have missed out on time at home with their families, so I’d like to thank everyone who has played a part in keeping the railway running this Christmas and New Year, completing crucial maintenance, renewal and enhancement work on the railway network and being part of the successful handback.

“Our decision to do work at this time of year is entirely based on the fact that many regular passengers take this time as holiday, so it causes disruption to the smallest number of people. We really appreciate the patience of those who have been affected by this essential work, which will lead to better and more reliable train services.”


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