HomeRail NewsChanging the face of delivery - The Great Western Electrification Programme

Changing the face of delivery – The Great Western Electrification Programme

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The Great Western Electrification Programme (GWEp) will provide more reliable, greener and quieter journeys for thousands of passengers. Around 1,000 kilometres of railway will be electrified between London and Cardiff for the introduction of Intercity Express trains by 2018.

This huge project will see 22,000 piles, masts and associated wiring installed and hundreds of thousands of decisions made to bring GWEp into service in just four years time.

In early 2013, Atkins and Parsons Brinckerhoff working in partnership were awarded the Lead Design Organisation (LDO) and Systems Integrator contract for the scheme – one of the first projects to be delivered under Network Rail’s UK-wide electrification plan. During the past 12 months, the joint team has been designing, developing and integrating the scheme in parallel which presents complex and exciting challenges.

Russell Jackson, Atkins’ director leading the LDO contract, said: “On a smaller project, achieving requirements and managing interfaces can be handled very easily without specialist techniques and skills. But this isn’t possible with GWEp so we’re using systems such as Enterprise Architect, 3D layout systems, and online design logs that augment traditional tools to ensure our design hits the sweet spot of right first time delivery.”

Keeping heritage in mind

Originally designed by Brunel as a broad gauge (7’ 1⁄4” – 2,140mm) railway, the Great Western main line was completed between London Paddington and Bristol Temple Meads in 1840. By 1875, the track had been converted to a three-rail system so that standard gauge trains could also use it, and by 1892 broad gauge operation had ceased entirely.

However, much of Brunel’s original railway remains. It has many Grade I and II listed buildings on its route and passes through a World Heritage site at Bath. This heritage is an important part of GWEp, and that is being taken into account in the overall electrification design. The joint team, led by Network Rail, is working closely with English Heritage and other stakeholders to make sure sensitive structures are safeguarded.

“We have to ensure that, as much as possible, the design meets our safety and engineering requirements in a way that is sensitive to Brunel’s railway,” Russell explained. “In the Bath World Heritage site, we are developing a holistic approach which reflects Brunel’s design while maintaining the highest safety standards for the railway. In these areas we’re working with heritage specialists Alan Baxter & Associates and will support Network Rail’s extensive public stakeholder consultation.”

HOPS 053(1) [online]Modern design

Despite keeping one eye on the railway’s heritage, the GWEp team is using the latest technology and is currently developing a new Overhead Line Electrification (OLE) system called Series 1. Using fewer parts, the system is more reliable than current OLE and is safer to operate and maintain.

To see how the system design will work in the real world, a testing site at Old Dalby was constructed in late 2013 to compare computer modelling with actual performance. Testing began in December 2013 using a Southeastern Class 395 Javelin high-speed train fitted with an improved design of pantograph. This evaluation is due to be complete around June 2014.

To date, the test results look good and show that the system is performing in line with how the modelling predicted it would. “The Old Dalby site is the first of its kind in the UK,” Russell commented. “Previously, UK electrification has used tried and tested technology but, with the new technology we are using this time around, we need to make sure performance is improved as we expect.

“The LDO is taking the GWEp system designs and developing the route-wide detailed designs. Amey is already installing foundations for early key milestones. We have seven design teams working on allocation of Series 1 on Great Western, drawing from a pool of 60 per cent of the UK’s OLE resource. As part of our continuous improvement process, the teams will develop detailed design, refined at each stage with ongoing build feedback, to ensure that the programme delivers an electrified railway that is as reliable, affordable and as safe as possible.”

Delivering a technically challenging programme of work in a short time frame requires working in a joint team. Daniel Mayhew, operations director from Parsons Brinckerhoff, continued: “On GWEp, the traditional way of working doesn’t apply. We must be collaborative and share responsibility to successfully deliver this scheme. The programme is different in how it recognises the importance of design and systems integration such that the LDO is a key delivery partner to Network Rail, alongside the construction partners.”

Developing new trains

To save time and money, the project team is also developing new high output construction trains to make installing the piles, masts and OLE much easier than traditional methods. This fleet of trains was developed specifically for use on GWEp and they work like a production line to install piles, masts and wiring. These new trains will be in service by the summer once testing is complete.

One of the first tasks will be to facilitate the start of Intercity Express (IEP) train testing. These will be manufactured by Hitachi at a new factory in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham. Currently, a 20 kilometre test site is being built between Didcot and Reading to allow Hitachi to test its new trains on a live railway to see how they will work with the Great Western infrastructure. The GWEp project team is building this site which will involve the installation of around 1000 structures and all of the associated equipment for electrification. Work is due to be complete during 2015.

GWEp is giving the project team an interesting challenge. Never before in the UK has a project of this scale been developed, designed and built concurrently but the lessons learnt here should help the rail industry become more effective.

From implementing next-generation engineering management systems to building bespoke equipment such as piling trains to achieve significant time and cost savings, it is clear that delivery in the rail industry is entering a new phase fit for a twenty-first century railway.

Atkins and Parsons Brinckerhoff have a range of exciting career opportunities available in electrification. Turn to pages 80 and 81 to find out more.


  1. I do hope that the trackwork is ion better shape than the rusty siding, with well-rotted sleepers shown in the picture!
    Any speed much above 15kph would result in a derailment, I should think ….

  2. True – but that’s a quiet piece of track on which they are testing the equioment. No point in blocking lines that are in service during trials.


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