This Christmas, Battersea Pier junction became the latest focus of intense activity as it was renewed over an 11-day blockade. Battersea Pier junction is one of London’s busiest junctions.
Located one mile south of London’s Victoria Station, it is used by 240,000 passengers each day. It is located at the junction of the routes to Chatham and Brighton, immediately to the south end of the Grosvenor Bridge across the Thames. It also provides the access into Thameslink’s Stewarts Lane maintenance depot.
The junction contained some of the oldest (dating from 1970s) and worst infrastructure on the Sussex route. There were deteriorating geometry issues with poor top and poor alignment, which were affecting ride quality and could have resulted in potential speed restrictions. The site also included 19 priority rail defects.
These problems would have been very difficult to remove through the routine maintenance regime in this very busy location. As a result of the junction’s conditions, an £8.5 million renewal was approved by Network Rail in 2015 with the objectives of reducing maintenance, providing a 35-year life, significantly improving asset reliability and enhancing the passenger journey experience.
The S&C South Alliance (Colas Rail, AECOM and Network Rail working together) was tasked with the project, which was not going to be a simple one to plan, given its location bounded by the Thames, the site of Battersea Power Station, 10-storey blocks of flats and a hotel. In addition, the main access point for the site was through Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.
The extent of the works was clearly going to be a challenge, as this would comprise the replacement of 12 point ends and a fixed diamond crossing, 1,300 metres of plain line track and 1,800 metres of conductor rail, together with replacing 10 point machines and associated cabling and power supply.
Being in an urban location, largely on elevated structures, storage and access were very restrictive and the site was surrounded by residential properties. The project’s procurement list included 4.5km of rail, 3,750 concrete sleepers and 8,000 tonnes of ballast.
The replacement of the junction’s track was designed on a like-for-like basis, with minor changes to enhance its alignment. The existing layout was on a mix of concrete and hardwood bearers but the replacement was to be entirely in concrete, with exception of a few timbers above the Grosvenor Bridge’s abutment.
To validate the ground survey, the AECOM design team made use of a Vogel R3D unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) to undertake a 3D topographic survey, outputting to a point cloud and orthophotos (true to scale images) of all five route kilometres of the affected track. The use of this form of high-accuracy survey is still relatively unusual at this scale but saved many weeks of traditional surveying. Plowman Craven, which undertook this work, had to satisfy the requirements of the Civil Aviation Authority, Police, Port of London Authority as well as avoiding affecting the peregrine falcons on Battersea Power Station.
With the site surrounded by residential properties and a hotel, the 11 days of intense activity on the site had great potential to result in complaints. As a result, there was significant public engagement with local residents through meetings with the Battersea Residents Association, as well as direct communications including letter drops and press releases. Residents were pleased to be informed and involved and were hungry for more information over the weeks leading up to the project. The team monitored noise and dust throughout the course of the work, and both were, at all times, within agreed limits. As a result of the teams’ engagement and site management, no complaints were received, a remarkable result given the location and season.
Closing such a major junction was clearly going to have a significant impact on services and travellers. The team worked closely with Govia Thameslink to plan diversionary services and to maintain access to Stewarts Lane depot for fleet maintenance. It was agreed to begin the blockade on Sunday 23 December as Saturday was rightly foreseen as a day of heavy traffic with people heading off for the holiday.
As a result of the blockade, Victoria’s Platforms 9 to 19 were closed and there were no Gatwick Express services from Victoria Station, with replacement services running from Blackfriars and London Bridge.
Most Southern services were diverted to London Bridge, with a limited service to Clapham Junction. Buses were used to replace train services for local journeys between Clapham Junction and Victoria.
An extensive information campaign took place during the autumn with posters, press releases and social media being used to inform travellers of the revised services.
Through close cooperation and coordination, the revised service pattern worked well, and there were no issues reported on the regular gold command calls. There had been concerns about potential crowding at Clapham Junction as a consequence of the revised services but, due to the major advance communications campaign to passengers, this proved not to be a problem.
During the autumn, the maintenance team paid special precautionary attention to the diversionary routes to ensure that they would not be adversely affected by the greatly increased traffic of diverted services over the blockade period. They also had resources on standby for any defects that might occur.
Being a landlocked site, access was not straightforward. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home is located in the vee between the two routes. The team had built a good relationship with staff at the Home during a previous project at Battersea Park and, as a result of their continued cooperation, was able to use the Home site as the primary means of access for both people and plant. The road/rail access point was at the far end of the Home and pedestrian access was via steps up to the track level from its car park.
Given the large volume of activity through their site, the Home were unaffected by the works, even on Boxing Day, the busiest day in the calendar. (It’s the most popular day to collect a dog, apparently).
A second RRAP (road-rail access point) was available in Battersea Yard and pedestrian access was also available from Battersea Park Station, providing multiple access and evacuation points.
The project compound was within Cory Environmental’s yard in Wandsworth Road, with a mini-welfare site at Havelock Terrace close to the site. Each shift across the blockade had 50 to 100 people on site and a fleet of four buses ferried them to and from their place of work.
Preparing the panels
The new S&C was manufactured by VAE at Worksop as 90 separate components and delivered by tilting wagon over a three-week period. Conventionally, these would have been offloaded alongside the work area for simple craning-in during installation. At Battersea Pier, the dense track layout precluded this and, as a result, the components were laid alongside the Battersea Reversible and Stewarts Lane lines.
Prolonged track access to make these deliveries was initially seen as a severe constraint to the project. As a result of collaboration with the operators, this problem was overcome by their offer of 08:00-20:00 possessions of these routes, apart from occasional access requirements for empty stock movements. This greatly eased the delivery activity and enabled the luxury of daylight working too.
Following vegetation and site clearance, together with levelling works to the wide cesses alongside these routes, the components were delivered to site in early December. Each was unloaded by Kirow crane and placed in its designated location, ready for collection and installation during the blockade. A quarter of the new S&C units were too large to transport in one piece and were delivered broken down into components. These were re-assembled as part of the delivery operation.
To reduce the volume of work to be carried out in the blockade, the plain line between the crossovers on the Up and Down Brighton Fast were re-laid in a 27-hour possession in mid-November. In addition, some advance S&T works were carried out at the end of November. Before the commencement of the renewals, RSS Infrastructure (RSSI) was tasked with relay room works, onsite installation, LOC builds and the build up of points operating equipment.
11 days of Christmas
The 11-day blockade began at 01:05 on 23 December, with the project’s 13 engineering trains already stabled in Victoria station and the 13 RRV excavators and two RRV dozers at the RRAP. Small tools and geotextile were brought to site by the RRVs, the trains brought ballast and removed spoil, equivalent to 675 lorry movements.
The project was managed as three sites, site 1 on the Up and Down Brighton Slow, site 2 on the Brighton reversible and site 3 the Up and Down Brighton Fasts.
During the blockade itself, the Up and Down Brighton lines were blocked but the Up and Down Chatham lines remained open throughout, except for Christmas Day and Boxing Day. To provide a safe site on the Down Brighton Slow, an engineering train was stabled on the Chatham reversible as an Adjacent Line Open barrier.
The full depth excavation exposed a number of historic signal bases and cabling. These could have delayed progress but had been foreseen from the team’s experiences on its previous project at Battersea Park in 2016 and resources and time had been allowed for this.
Once the geotextile and bottom ballast had been placed, spread and compacted by the excavators and dozer, then the S&C components were brought to site from their temporary storage and placed by the Kirow crane.
Works to power supply and signalling cabling were restricted to dis- and re-connections. A future improvement will be to enhance the power supply to the switch heating.
During commissioning, RSSI carried out four-foot installation, relay room changeovers, final points setup and handover. Following completion, the team also provided after care support and cover for follow up works.
As part of the contingency planning, the team had a standby RRV and fitters available at the access point, together with a spare Kirow crane and locomotive on standby at Hoo depot.
The first priority was to hand back access into Stewarts Lane depot to allow public services to recommence. Contingency planning was meticulous for the three sites should there be any delay. However, the project was completed on time, accident and incident free, and handed back to operational traffic at 45mph line speed at 23:00 on 1 January. Empty stock proving runs between Victoria and Clapham then took place before traffic recommenced at 04:00.
As works were completed, part of the RRV fleet was re-deployed south to Factory Junction to deliver a second, smaller project there, delivered by the same team.
As a high-profile project, it received several senior visitors over the blockade – Rail Minister Andrew Jones on 24 December and Network Rail CEO Andrew Haines accompanied by John Halsall, route managing director, on 27 December. All were delighted with the progress in carrying out such a complex project and praised the team delivering it.
Thanks to Network Rail’s Paul Harwood and Adam Kotulecki for their help in preparing this article.