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Christmas cheer

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Christmas is always a problematic time for railway users, operators and maintainers. Many people want to travel to see families and loved ones that they may only see once a year, and the logical way to cover long distances laden down with presents and other goodies is either by car or by train.

In addition, some families move about, spending two days here and two days there over the holiday period. So, there is quite a demand for rail transportation, often from people who aren’t frequent train users.

On the other hand, passenger numbers are still well down on those for a normal day during the rest of the year – often by as much as 50 per cent. So, if a line has to be shut, then the only passengers it inconveniences are those few Christmas travellers, although they understandably don’t like it.

Which is why major work gets done over Christmas, when it is actually possible to close sections of the railway without inconveniencing regular commuters.

Christmas chaos

Plans for closures are made well in advance, with announcements in local media and, in some cases, alternative routes arranged. After all, the whole railway network isn’t closed, except for Christmas Day, just some particular parts of it. This year, in fact, as much as 95 per cent of the network was unaffected.

So it’s all very orderly. However, this doesn’t stop the sensationalist headline writers in the national press:

“XMAS RAIL HELL: Brits face rail chaos over Christmas…” (The Sun)

“Christmas travel chaos could be worst ever as rail network shuts down…” (The Telegraph)

“Christmas of rail chaos to disrupt festive family time…” (Mirror)

“Christmas chaos for train passengers…” (Express)

Two things are particularly noticeable about these headlines. Firstly, they were all written in October when Network Rail announced its plans so that travellers could avoid the effects of them. So the “chaos” hadn’t yet happened.

Secondly, the Oxford English Dictionary defines chaos as: “A state resembling that of primitive chaos; utter confusion and disorder.” How announcing that a length of railway line will be closed in two months’ time, so that prospective travellers can make alternative arrangements well in advance, equates with “utter confusion and disorder” is a mystery. But that’s headline writers for you.

Perhaps the headline for this article should read: “Orange Army combats Christmas chaos” – let’s get all those clichés into one statement!

Of course, after months of planning, that didn’t happen at all. Billed as “the largest Christmas upgrade in Network Rail history”, the amount of work successfully completed was impressive, and there was no sign of chaos.


24,000 people were out working on the railway over the holiday period – that’s the equivalent of the entire population of a town the size of Ryde, or Rugeley, or Arbroath. They worked on 200 different projects at 3,000 worksites, racking up 600,000 hours of work and delivering over £100 million of railway enhancements as part of Network Rail’s Railway Upgrade Plan.

Of the 200 projects, 32 were classified as RED, in accordance with the DWWP process (Delivering Work Within Possessions). RED sites are judged to need greater management attention due to their complexity, profile or impact. The 32 included six major projects, 12 track renewals and five bridge replacements as well as signalling, overhead line, level crossing works and power supply upgrades.

In general, it all went well. Of the 1,000 possessions taken, 98.5 per cent were handed back without impacting passengers or freight. Of the remaining 15, only three resulted in significant delays to services. One was at Cardiff, where an overrun on one of the interim handbacks was caused by issues during signal testing. Late handback of bridge works on the West Coast main line at Oxford Canal and Nuneaton was partly due to high winds.

There were a few minor incidents – one worker fell off a platform edge and suffered a broken elbow, two were hit by a falling OLE cable and another had a cut finger whilst preparing pallets for unloading – but it was minor stuff and the lost time injury frequency rate (LTIFR) over Christmas was less than the annual moving average for the rest of the year.

Janice Crawford, regional director for major projects in the south, worked her first Christmas having joined Network Rail ten months ago. “I visited a site on Christmas Day where we removed the track, demolished a bridge, replaced it with a new bridge, and put new track in place,” she commented afterwards. “We did all that safely and had the railway back up and running in less than 48 hours. It was very impressive to watch.”

Central region

Overhead line work at Euston station formed part of the enabling works for HS2. Lines were removed on the west side of the station so that the DB Cargo shed building can be demolished and an 11kV diversionary route installed.

Three wire runs that affect the main lines, totalling 1km of contact and catenary wire, were dewired and several new OLE structures installed.

A single-span underbridge that carries the West Coast main line over the Oxford Canal between Rugby and Nuneaton was replaced. Each line is carried by an independent deck. The existing structure was in poor condition due to extensive deflection in the decks, heavy water seepage throughout, poor condition of the steelwork and a general breakdown of the protective paint system.

The new bridge decks are fabricated from weathering steel, so no more paint will be needed, and a combined cable route and walkway now provides a safe walking route across the structure. It was installed using 1,550 and 750 tonne capacity cranes during an 81- hour disruptive possession.

Due to excessive wind speed, both cranes were unable to lift for a 12-hour period. This resulted in a 6.5-hour delay in handing back the Down Slow, Down Fast and Up Fast lines. The Up Slow line remained blocked until 2 January and was restored to linespeed on the 4th.

Nearby, another single-span underbridge. this time with three decks carrying the four tracks, was replaced at Woodford Lane/Nuneaton Road. As well as general deterioration, the bridge has suffered a number of vehicle strikes which have affected its integrity.

A new steel-reinforced concrete deck with a design life of 120 years was installed using a Self Propelled Modular Transporter (SPMT) during a 79hr 45min disruptive possession. All lines, except for the Up Fast, were handed back at 08:00 on 28 December (two hours later than planned) – the Up Fast remained blocked until 1 January.

Redundant neutral sections in the overhead line were removed at Wolverton. These had previously been taken out of service but left in place – they were removed as they were no longer being maintained.

Great Western and Crossrail

Work on the overground sections of Crossrail, which were undertaken by Network Rail over the holiday period, have been covered in more detail by Peter Stanton elsewhere in this issue.

Crossrail Anglia successfully delivered an extensive programme of works throughout a 10-day blockade. This included the installation of 11 S&C units at Shenfield, stepping & gauging and DOO (driver only operation) works across stations in readiness for the new Class 345 trains, and key enabling works at Pudding Mill Lane.

At Paddington station, Platforms 11-14 are being rebuilt to allow Platforms 11 and 12 to accommodate 10-car IEP and 12-car EMU services and for Platform 14 to accommodate eight-car EMU services. In part, this is achieved by the permanent closure and amalgamation of the existing Platform 13 into the new, lengthened Platform 12. Over Christmas, Platform 13 was permanently closed and new track was laid alongside Platforms 11 and 12. Copers were relaid to extend the edge of Platform 12 to the new track alignment. Two redundant lift shafts were removed.


Work continued on the Old Oak Common Paddington Approaches (OOCPA) with the completion of all OLE work for the Crossrail depot lines. The existing Carriage line was removed and the new Crossrail Depot line 2 installed. Signalling works in support of the new Crossrail Depot lines and new S&C were completed and new drainage installed at Portobello Junction.

Completion of the last stage of work on Stockley Flyover over a 10-day possession saw it brought into use immediately after the holiday.

Platform 2 at Hayes & Harlington was extended and Platform 3 rebuilt. A new crossover from the Down Relief to the Up Relief will enable rolling stock to use the new bay line platform as a turn back. 270 metres of drainage work was also carried out.

Nine new S&C units were installed and 11 commissioned at Maidenhead. 1,500 metres of new plain line were laid and 300 metres realigned – in all, 6,025 tonnes of bottom ballast and 4,625 tonnes of top ballast were brought in on work trains. 35 new signals and indicators were commissioned.

The Oxford South scheme is introducing axle counters, which have reliability benefits over track circuits. 299 new axle counters were installed, along with 14 new ACEs (Axle Counter Evaluators) and 4 new REBs (Relocatable Equipment Buildings). At the same time, the Didcot workstation was moved over to the latest IECC software platform, giving consistency across the Thames Valley Control Centre.

Northern programmes

The Ordsall Chord, a new 300-metre section of railway which will link Manchester Piccadilly and Victoria Stations for the first time, is covered in more detail by Paul Darlington in his article. Water Street bridge was replaced. New signal heads and droppers were installed at Ordsall Lane Junction where plain track was also renewed, 12 new signals were commissioned and the Manchester Piccadilly, Trafford Park and Windsor Bridge Route Relay Interlocking re-controlled to Manchester Rail Operating Centre.

As part of the electrification of the Trans- Pennine route (Manchester Victoria to Leeds), which will require new electric rolling stock to be serviced at Ardwick Depot, a new crossover was installed on the Ashbury lines between Ancoats Viaduct and Ashburys West Junction.

Scotland and North East

Kingsknowe is the second highest risk level crossing in Scotland. The existing Automatic Half Barrier (AHB) crossing has been replaced with a Manually Controlled Barrier with Obstacle Detection (MCB-OD). A 29-hour possession at New Year was used to test and commission the signalling system. The final obstacle-detection elements were commissioned by Sunday 15 January.

The Doncaster Station Area Capacity Improvement project will deliver additional flexibility and release of capacity at the south of Platforms 1, 2, and 3, and a new platform to allow trains between Doncaster and the Thorne direction to operate more efficiently, separately to Long Distance High Speed (LDHS) services. Over Christmas, signalling interlocking changes took place to enable the commissioning of the Up East Slow as bi-directional and the commissioning of a new passenger loop.

Sykes Lane overbridge, on the outskirts of the village of Tollerton just north of the city of York, spans four straight, ballasted and electrified railway tracks on the East Coast main line. During a 56-hour possession, running between Christmas Eve and 27 December, the team successfully renewed the overbridge by disconnecting the overhead line, removing it and lifting off the existing deck span, modifying the existing abutments, then lifting in the new deck span and reattaching the OLE.

The East Coast main line Power Supply Upgrade (ECML PSU) project is upgrading the network to support increased capacity. Originally an Autotransformer (AT)-based system upgrade, including an increase of the fault level to 12kA, a revised scheme has now been developed which retains some elements of the existing system in a solution incorporating AT and classic rail return distribution schemes but with a fault level of 6kA. From Christmas Day until Tuesday 27 December, the team commissioned a new Track Sectioning Location compound at Langley. This involved the installation of new switchblades and the removal of redundant feeds and small part steel from the OLE on both the East Coast main line and Hertford line.


Broad Street bridge is a single span masonry arch structure supporting two non- electrified tracks of the BKE line in the middle of 900 acres of Ministry of Defence land. During a 57-hour possession over Christmas, the life-expired structure was replaced with a new single-span precast concrete portal deck, supported on the existing brick abutments. The concrete portal sections were erected on site, adjacent to the railway, stitched together and then driven into place as a single unit using an SPMT. Welding works, which were originally planned for the follow up possession in week 40, were accelerated and completed in week 39.

Old Lodge Lane bridge is located near Reedham station, Purley. It is a single span half- through structure – an original brick arch carries two ballasted central lines (Up Slow and Down Fast). The bridge has been widened to carry two additional ballasted lines (Down Slow and Up Fast), positioned on either side of the original brick arch. These additional metallic structures comprise four longitudinally spanning, riveted plate girders (two outer and two inner) resting on brickwork abutments. The plate girders in turn support a later spanning pressed-metal through deck.

The life-expired metallic bridge extensions either side of the brick arch have been replaced with precast concrete filler decks, fixed to precast cills resting on the existing brick abutments, using SPMTs. The Up Fast was replaced over Christmas while the Down Slow had already been exchanged early in December.

A new railway station, Cambridge North, is being constructed on the West Anglia main line in the northeast quadrant of Cambridge, on the Bishop’s Stortford to Ely North Junction route. The freight sidings within the nearby Chesterton Junction Yard are also being realigned to remove the need for trains to shunt via the Down Main when operating within the yard. An existing crossover was renewed on concrete bearers, clipped in the normal position and detected.


It will be brought into use in April. Stage 6B of the station signalling commissioning was completed, including interlocking changeover in Chesterton Relay Room, changeover in 10 LOCS, the relocation of two signals, panel changeovers and eight track circuits.

The GE OLE renewal project has been underway for some time, replacing the existing 25kV AC, ex- 1500V DC, fixed termination OLE with a modern equivalent form of automatically tensioned wiring. In total, 308 wire runs will be replaced between Liverpool Street, Shenfield and Chelmsford. A 10- day Christmas blockade enabled the renewal of 12 wire runs at Gidea Park station and on the electric lines between Gidea Park station, the Country End Sidings and Sidings Road 1. The total renewed wire now stands at 60km between Goodmayes and Brentwood.

As part of the Sussex Power Supply Upgrade, an 18-way under-track crossing (UTX) was installed across five tracks (Kent lines) adjacent to Victoria Substation. 26 Cable Management Sleepers were installed across a further four lines (Sussex lines) in a two-part 27/52 hour possession. The UTX trench was over two metres wide by two metres tall, with 500 metres of ducting.

The Windsor Outlying project is modifying switches and crossings at the country end of Queenstown Road station to enable the December 2017 timetable to operate into Waterloo International. Christmas was the only opportunity to install two point ends and 22 track panels using a Kirow crane and Network Rail’s tilting wagons.

The Wessex Capacity programme, which is reopening the old International Platforms and extending platforms 1-4 at Waterloo, undertook signalling, signalling power, third-rail and civil engineering preparatory works over the Christmas shutdown. This, the only prolonged all-line block access at Waterloo, enabled signalling interlocking works, updates to legacy control systems and negative bonding alongside civil engineering to open up voids in the platforms for future congestion relief stairs and demolition work on Waterloo concourse.

Work completed included modifications to the signalling control and electrical power systems that could only be undertaken when the entire station was closed, running of one mile of third-rail cable and recovering 800 metres, the commissioning of new signals and indicators, creating two platform openings to allow future staircases to be built and the hydro-demolition of part of the station concourse to allow the future construction of a bridge connecting the existing station to Waterloo International.


Clive Kessell looks at work at London Bridge and the part-commissioning of the Bermondsey Dive- under in his article in this issue. The Down Sussex Slow line was commissioned, with trains running throughBermondseyDive-underforthefirsttime. Two redundant signalling gantries were recovered.

Signalling programme

The major highlight was the completion of Phase 5 of the Cardiff Area Signalling Renewals (CASR) programme, which incorporated the biggest single signalling commissioning in Network Rail history as well as significant track and civils work. This work is described by David Bickell in his article elsewhere in this issue.

Work at Liverpool Lime Street begins a large campaign of work through 2017. Two under- track crossings were constructed within the station area, as was a new overhead line structuretosupportthefuturetracklayout. A redundant platform area was demolished to provide space for future expansion.

Track delivery

Chris Parker describes the renewal of eight switch and crossing units at New Cross, south of London Bridge, in his article in this issue. The project was to renew two three-line crossovers with switch diamonds. Challenging logistics at the site required all the new track panels to be road-delivered to a small access compound and craned to the railway before being lifted, carried and installed by rail-mounted Kirow Crane.

Another complicated project was the renewal of two track junctions on the West Coast main line in thesameChristmas2016possession.Wembley Central North Crossover is between the Up and Down Slow lines just north of Wembley Central station while Acton Branch Junction 2446B forms one end of the crossover between the Down Fast and Up Willesden Relief. The existing HW2000 point machines were replaced with Hy-Drives/SO back drives, including detection for NR60 switch types. Concrete bearers were used to replace the existing timber bearers, providing a much more reliable and maintainable layout. Some of the works were curtailed with half of the crossover at Wembley being deferred as a result of late possessions start and finding a concrete pipe during the dig.

A plain line track renewal on the Slow lines at Willesden, on the West Coast main line between Camden and Watford, was split over the Christmas and New Year weekends. 545 metres of track was replaced over the Christmas weekend, along with 220 metres on the Up Fast over the New Year weekend.

The complete renewal of two crossovers on the west ladder giving access/egress between Neville Hill TMD (Train Maintenance Depot) and Leeds was handed back on time.

Three S&C units were renewed at Bridge Junction, south of Doncaster on the East Coast main line, over three weekends (weeks 38, 40 (New Year weekend) and 41).

Eglinton Street is located on the four-track electrified section at the throat of Glasgow Central station. Track renewal works consisted of a formation dig, re-ballast, re-sleeper and re-railing over 670 metres at four different locations, in conjunction with 286 metres of new drainage installation.

Works delivery

Part of a five-year S&C refurbishment programme around Preston station to remove long standing Temporary Speed Restrictions (TSR) involved the like-for-like renewal of three complete S&C units at the north of the station. Ballast was dug out 200mm below sleeper bottom and a total of eight new S&C panels installed.

St. Nicholas Bridge (Carlisle) has had long- standing gauge issues which were being managed by tie bars holding the gauge. A temporary variation was due to expire in January, and this would have resulted in a temporary speed restriction being imposed. 100 metres of track was replaced over the Christmas period, along with the installation of adjustment switches and guard rails.

The existing electro-pneumatic points (EP) are being replaced by Clamplocks within Birmingham New Street station. Due to the complexity of the area and the number of interfaces involved, a phased approach has been adopted. During Phase 6 (Christmas 2016), two points 599B&C and 601A&B, located in the middle of Birmingham New Street station, were converted.


Network Rail’s Christmas works cost £103 million. It also cost 24,000 railway workers the chance to spend Christmas Day with their families and loved ones. How did they feel about it?

Oyunga Carter is a programme management assistant for the Ordsall Chord project in Manchester. She commented afterwards: “Since 18 December I have been working towards a major milestone in the delivery of the Ordsall Chord project. The whole team worked through wind, rain and even the rare Manchester sunshine to deliver the project over Christmas and we really pulled together to get the project finished on time. Although being apart from family and friends is always difficult at this time of year, the scale of the work we have achieved is immense on this once in a lifetime project. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.”

Francis Paonessa, Susan Cooklin (route services director) and Toufil Machnouk (senior programme manager) at Stockley.

Billy Russell, 25 and from Maidstone in Kent, has a 7 year-old stepson and two children aged three and two. He is also a scaffolder with Alltask, one of Network Rail’s contractors. He spent Christmas Day at a project site in Bramley, Hampshire where a 150-year old railway bridge was replaced.

“This was the first Christmas Day that I’ve worked since I had my two youngest children,” Billy reflected afterwards. “I missed their whole day as I left home at 4am and didn’t get back until after they’d gone to bed. It’s hard, knowing that I missed out on all their excitement.

However, I figure that it was a small sacrifice to make. The kids aren’t interested in me on Christmas Day, it’s all about their presents, whereas, on site, I’ve been a part of something that will improve rail journeys in this area and I’ve helped to ensure that it’s all been done safely. We did the work that needed to be done. That gave me a good feeling and made it easier when I was sitting down to cold turkey and potatoes on Christmas evening.”

Alexandra Bassett, a scheme project manager on the Crossrail project, worked her second Christmas on the railway this year. She’s worked for Network Rail for five years. “I’ve been doing nightshifts over Christmas in the control room at Romford while also going out and visiting some of the Crossrail sites,” she stated. “I don’t mind working over the holidays as there is always such a nice atmosphere among the staff who are all pulling together to get the job done, but remaining cheerful in the process. It makes me proud to be a part of such a vital project which will benefit millions of people once the line opens in 2018.”

Francis Paonessa, managing director of Network Rail Infrastructure Projects, visited several sites over the ‘holiday’ period. One was the bridge renewal at Old Lodge Lane on Boxing Day. He said that he was pleased to say that all of the projects he’d visited were going “extremely well”, and added: “I’d like to thank all of my colleagues at Network Rail who’ve worked so hard over the Christmas period, supported by all of our contractors too. They’ve given up their Christmas to help make Britain’s railway better every day.”

He wasn’t the only one out and about. Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling was at Paddington on Christmas Eve where he commented: “As the Government continues with the biggest investment in our rail services since the Victorian era, huge infrastructure projects have to be delivered when the travelling public will be least inconvenienced. I am grateful to the many workers who form the Orange Army for giving up Christmas with their friends and family to help ensure improvements on our railways.”

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne went to several sites, including Maidenhead on 30 December. After the railway was back to normal after New Year, he thanked everyone involved. “Our people can now go home and enjoy their delayed Christmas and be proud of having delivered a huge programme of railway improvement work. And we don’t just do it at Christmas. We are working week in, week out as we invest to transform our railway.”

The last word goes to Becky Lumlock, Network Rail’s route managing director for Wessex, who said: “Christmas provides us with a great chance to deliver vital aspects of our Railway Upgrade Plan while causing the least amount of disruption to passengers. Our Orange Army have worked around the clock through Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day, providing a better railway for the growing number of passengers using the railway.

“Our work will now continue behind the scenes…”

And so it will. And Rail Engineer will be there to cover it.

Written by Nigel Wordsworth


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