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Bromsgrove Corridor resignalling

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In November 2015 (issue 133), Rail Engineer reported on the extensive West Midlands resignalling plan with all new signalling being controlled from the WMSC (West Midlands Signalling Centre) at Saltley. This was originally built, close to the existing power signal box (PSB), for the aborted Railtrack West Coast Passenger Upgrade 2 (PUG2) signalling for 140mph running.

However, Network Rail has quietly been getting on with replacing the 1960s PSBs with control transferring to the WMSC. Saltley PSB (1969-2016) has now followed Coventry (1962- 2007), Bescot (1965-2013), Wolverhampton (1965-2015) and Walsall (1965-2013) into retirement, leaving only Birmingham New Street (1966) still operational.

Rail Engineer recently met up with Network Rail to learn more above the latest West Midlands resignalling project of Bromsgrove corridor resignalling, which was successfully commissioned on 7 November 2016. The Bromsgrove Corridor programme consists of three elements:

1) A third party funded new Bromsgrove station (opened in July);

2) Signalling renewal – with capacity enhancements between Five Ways and Ashchurch, along with some track remodelling;

3) Electrification between Barnt Green and Bromsgrove, with the overhead electrification equipment due to be energised in September 2017.

Control area changes

The northern fringe boundary to Birmingham New Street PSB has been moved slightly north of Five Ways (Birmingham), with control transferred onto the new Kings Norton workstation in the WMSC to create a new turn back facility. The benefit is that, in the event of any major problem with the Birmingham New Street PSB, trains can be controlled and turned back at Five Ways.

To the south, the boundary of Saltley PSB was at Barnt Green at the top of the famous Lickey Incline, but this has now been moved further south to Ashchurch, with control of the former Gloucester PSB interlockings areas of Blackwell, Bromsgrove, Stoke Works, Spetchley, Abbotswood and Eckington transferring into the WMSC. This area is controlled from a new Bromsgrove workstation.

This is to better regulate and manage train services approaching the complex Birmingham rail network and is part of the overall Network Rail control strategy. It has created some interesting cross-route asset management and maintenance responsibility boundaries, but organisational boundaries change quicker than asset configuration changes and it is the right thing to do.

Workstations and interlockings

Siemens is the framework resignalling contractor for the route, with the early GRIP stage signalling design work undertaken in-house by Network Rail’s Signal Design Group (SDG).

The two workstations use the Siemens Rail Automation Westcad and Trackguard Westlock interlocking system. Dorman LED signals have been used throughout the scheme with train detection using axle counters. At one point in the design, it appeared that track circuits may have to be retained for the AHBs (automatic half-barrier level crossings) but, in the end, a way was found of using axle counters.

The asset condition of the AHBs at Dunhampstead, Wadborough and Pirton was assessed and it was decided they did not require renewal. However, this created some interesting design challenges as the original intention had been to use central evaluation of the axle counters.

However, with remote triggering by axle counter sections, it was found that critical timings would be problematical because of the timing cycles and processing time required as a result of the propagation delay in passing the data to WMSC and back out to the AHBs. An alternative design has been devised, which provides for the grouping of evaluators in relocatable equipment buildings (REBs) located at the AHBs.

The attendant-operated manual crossing at Oddingley was replaced with a full barrier obstacle detection monitored and controlled crossing, known as MBC-OD. This automatic full barrier crossing is the first installation on the LNW South route. MBC-ODs have now been used a number of times in other parts of the network and are proven and reliable.

A number of bridges have been lifted or removed to enable the electrification and this has assisted signal sighting. Duct routes have been provided ready for the distribution cabling.

Between Bromsgrove and Barnt Green stations is the steepest sustained adhesion- worked main-line railway incline in Great Britain. The Lickey Incline climbs towards Birmingham at a gradient of 1 in 37.7 (or 2.65%) for a continuous distance of two miles (3.2 km). A banking engine, in the form of a locomotive to assist trains that require additional power or traction to climb a gradient, was often used in steam days on various parts of the network.

That is still the case for certain freight trains at Lickey. However, the old system of plungers and indicators to control the assisting locomotives has been replaced by the use of voice communications over the GSM-R network. This is another benefit of the investment made by the rail industry in GSM-R, as replacing the previous system would have required yet another expensive bespoke system to design and maintain.


The telecoms requirements for the resignalling were designed, installed and commissioned by Linbrooke Services. The voice services are based on a centralised Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM) with IP connectivity, connected via FTNx infrastructure to trackside Cisco IE2000 Ethernet switches using a Cisco ASR903 aggregate layer. The IE2000 switches provide both power and Ethernet connectivity for Gai-Tronics VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) trackside telephones.

The CUCM acts as a voice concentrator with its functionality distributed across distributed nodes at WMSC and Rugby ROC. The LAN connectivity for both nodes is facilitated by Cisco ME3400 layer 3 switches, again gaining access onto the FTNx infrastructure through a Cisco ASR903 aggregate layer.

Connectivity to existing legacy analogue voice services, concentrators, Public Emergency Telephone Systems (PETS) for AHBs, and analogue extensions are provided through Cisco VG350 voice gateways. The interface to the operators is provided by an IP trade touchscreen system with fall back Cisco IP telephones. The management server for the touchscreens is located on the LAN at both Saltley and Rugby for redundancy and security reasons, and is co- located with a RedBox voice recorder.

The telephony scope consisted of over 200 telephone circuits transferred from Gloucester and Saltley PSB to WMSC, and including the provision of new 66 VoIP telephones, three PETS systems and associated TADU (Text Alarm Display Unit), seven user-worked crossings and 30 telephones for new power supply points. The signalling data circuits included the new circuits for the Oddingley MCB – OD crossing, 40 SSI circuits and 250 new IP-based axle counter network connections.

Bromsgrove Station

The station originally opened as part of the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway (later part of the Midland Railway) in 1840. In June 1969, the station was rebuilt with a single short platform on the Up (northbound) side. This required stopping Down (southbound) trains to cross to the Up line and back again after calling at Bromsgrove station. The first milestone in the rebirth of rail in the area was a new platform on the Down side that was opened in May 1990. Move forward 20 years, and the ever-expanding railway required a bigger new station and a better commuter service on top of what was already a busy intercity and freight route.

The station was planned by Network Rail with four platforms to accommodate nine car trains. The existing site was constrained with little space for new platforms, car parking and turn outs, so it was decided to move the station to a new brownfield site just to the south of the current station.

Contamination of the land was a known factor, it having been an oil refinery site, and was included in all consultation reports and planning stages. However, once construction commenced, the contamination was found to be more extensive and thicker than even the trial survey holes had predicted. It is believed that, in the 1980s, vandals had opened one of the tank’s valves and flooded the area in oil which soaked into the sandstone rock.

There was also asbestos on the site of an old loco shed and the planning consent was conditional on a full decontamination of the station area and car park. No wonder rail projects are expensive and face delays! The contamination on site, and a previously undiscovered culvert, resulted in the opening date of the station being pushed back a number of times.

Counterintuitively, the new station has its through lines around the back of the platforms; however this is to provide a confliction-free inside turnback arrangement. The platforms in the middle of the station will be electrified for commuter services.

The new station was finally opened in July 2016. The new station facilities and better integration with local bus services were aimed at making it more attractive for people to use the train to travel from Bromsgrove to Birmingham or Worcester, reducing congestion, carbon emissions and making it easier to access the town. It was funded by the local authorities – Worcestershire County Council and the West Midlands Combined Authority (previously known as Centro) – which have the objective of making the local area more attractive for businesses and encouraging job creation in the Bromsgrove area.

The new station facilities include a new station building including a manned ticket office, passenger waiting room, ticket/travel information and toilets. A new station car park provides standard parking bays, disabled parking bays, electric vehicle charging stations, car share bays and two bus stops. An external concourse links new bus stops, the taxi rank, pedestrian footpaths, and a cycle store. The station has the capability to handle 800,000 passengers per year.

Understandably, some passenger were perplexed at the route being shut for the resignalling and track works just three months after the station opening, but the station had to be built first to allow the old station to be removed in order to make way for the new track layout and signalling.

The blockade

The three elements of the new station, resignalling and electrification have depended on each other for scope and timing. The new station had to be opened first, in order to close the old one. The old station needed to be demolished as it is was in the way of the track remodelling. Track remodelling and the resignalling had to be synchronised, so as not to disturb the old Gloucester resignalling and to avoid abortive stagework on the new signalling. Electrification will follow to match the revised track layout and to take advantage of the new electrification- immune signalling system.

VolkerRail, the contractor for the track and civils works in the Bromsgrove station area, operated from a compound at Stoke Court, south of Bromsgrove. From here, the same company deployed road-rail equipment to good advantage last Christmas for a culvert, drainage and track installation which was installed prior to the blockade.

At 21:45 on Tuesday 25 October, an engineering train (empties) arrived at Bromsgrove and the possession was taken. A work sequence was planned that effectively divided the station area into ‘quarters’, each quarter going through a similar sequence of track and ballast removal, ballasting, S&C installation, top ballasting and tamping, welding and stressing.

The first quarter was the northwestern side and remodelling of the Up Goods and new Up Gloucester lines. Teams commenced cutting rail and track into 30ft lengths, loading them onto panel wagons. A ‘conveyor belt’ of engineering trains fed the site from the north and, upon being used or filled with excavated material, departed to the south, maintaining the flow. By midday on the first day, some 6,000 tons of material had been conveyed out of site.

The next stage was track installation. Train 6X17 (top and tailed with Kirow crane and tilting S&C wagons) entered the site. The Kirow crane was shunted away, wagons drawn parallel to the S&C installation site and lowered to horizontal in turn, and the Kirow built its track in front of it, moving into the individual prefabricated switch and crossing panels, installing these in sequence.

The final activity was dropping of top ballast, fitting of temporary rail clamps, ballast brushing and tamping to final top and line.

This sequence was then repeated. By using the newly-installed ‘north west quarter’ track, the dig and track renewal for Stage 2 (‘north east’ quarter) was fed with trains using this adjacent line – in effect, at least one line always existed through the site to keep the ‘conveyor belt’ of a total of 50 engineering trains moving. In practice, Stage 2 start had already been preceded by excavation in Stage 3 to the south, so there was overlap between stages where works could be accommodated in parallel.

Integrated programme reporting and four- hourly conference calls tracked productivity and coordination throughout. VolkerRail maintained progress usually a few hours ahead of plan, only reverting to ‘on time’ when waiting for crucial resources or plant, then accelerated away again to a few hours ahead of programme. The work was handed over to Siemens three hours ahead of deadline on the evening of Friday 4 November.

A small amount of electrification installation was achieved at Barnt Green (HV and LV ducting through the main line platforms) but no lineside installation was possible given the number of engineering trains continuously traversing the corridor.

Siemens commenced signalling testing work at the start of the possession on the night of Tuesday 25 October. Disconnections and recovery work commenced in the Barnt Green-Abbotswood (excl) section, avoiding the Bromsgrove station area. Fringe works to Droitwich signalbox also commenced.

The signalling activity then started to ramp up, commencing with the level crossings renewal works. Activity was also concentrated in the Blackwell and Stoke Works Jn area, within the possession area but still outside the Bromsgrove VolkerRail contract area. For all but the last weekend, trains continued to operate on the Cross-City South, and through Abbotswood Jn – a diversionary timetable operated over this period. Increasingly, as track infrastructure was built at Bromsgrove, the signalling teams moved in to follow, setting up cables, points detection and proving, and installing necessary signalling infrastructure.

The signalling scheme had been mostly built in the last 18 months on Saturday nights, and most of the project geography had been in soak testing and operation in ‘shadow mode’ for many weeks previously, giving confidence about reliability levels and readiness for service. This could not be done for the new track infrastructure at Bromsgrove, so a co-ordinated power, telecoms and signalling installation programme was fitted behind VolkerRail’s track build.

The signalling project moved into its most concentrated phase on the evening of Friday 4 November. After the passage of the last empty stock train from Redditch to Birmingham, Saltley PSB was signed out of use and powered-off at 00:43 on Saturday. A small and respectful group that included the signaller, local operations and maintenance staff, sponsor, test and commissioning engineer, and contractor’s signalling engineers marked this event. The building was then closed and the panel floor locked off. It will remain as operational accommodation until it will be demolished when HS2 comes through the location.

All of the telecoms requirement was successfully entered into service by Linbrooke on Sunday 6th November at 20:00, some five hours before the telecoms deadline and exactly in line with the Linbrooke plan.

After a twelve-day blockade of the route between Barnt Green and Abbotswood Jn, on the morning of 7 November 2016, the signalling system was successfully signed into use at 03:25 with the possession being handed back 25 minutes early, at 04:51. The first train movement (0B00 light locomotive ‘Lickey banker’) entered the new Bromsgrove resignalled area and made its way through the remodelled layout around Bromsgrove station.

The track, telecommunications and signalling projects have left the Barnt Green to Bromsgrove corridor ‘electrification-ready’, with a new layout and immune from 25kV interference. The electrification project team, having already installed 90 piled bases, will continue over Saturday night possessions over the next nine months, with energisation scheduled for September 2017.

Next and final stage

Reliability over the first few weeks of operation has been good with no axle counter head issues, and already leaf fall and adhesion issue messages on the Lickley incline have been communicated quickly in the West Midlands area, rather than via the Swindon control.

With the signalling immunisation in place, together with better control and platform capacity, the next stage is full electrification and the extension of the Birmingham Cross City line to Bromsgrove. This will provide an additional three trains per hour from Birmingham to Bromsgrove calling at Five Ways, University, Selly Oak, Bournville, Kings Norton, Northfield, Longbridge and Barnt Green.

The expectation is that the electric service will commence in May 2018.

Written by Paul Darlington

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  1. “Energisation scheduled for September 2017”. As of 23 December 2017 there is no energisation yet so the electric service will probably be later than May 2018 I suppose.


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