Much of the UK spends the Christmas and New Year period in a state of either revelry or recovery, more so in 2021 following the washout that was Christmas 2020. However, Network Rail makes the most of the holiday, tackling some of the more extensive and challenging projects required to keep the country moving.
The final two weeks of the year provide a great opportunity. The drop in demand for rail travel, along with the closure of the network on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, means that substantial work can go ahead with replacement bus services only having to handle half the passengers they would at other times of the year.
Between 24 December 2021 and 4 January 2022, Network Rail and the rail supply chain delivered over £133 million of engineering works. Teams worked on over 4,500 worksites across more than 1,900 possessions, delivering major enhancements, core renewals, and maintenance works across the rail network. For the second year running, Covid-19 caused major challenges but, by all accounts, these obstacles were well-navigated, and delivery of the works was another great success.
Forty-two projects covering a total of 77 worksites delivering infrastructure upgrades were identified as ‘RED’ through the Delivering Work Within Possessions (DWWP) standard. These projects were judged to carry a greater risk of possession overrun and/or a more significant impact in the event of an overrun. Although it’s not possible to comment on all of these works, the next few pages aim to give a taste of the projects completed by the rail network’s dedicated engineers over the holiday period.
Twenty-one programmes of work took place across the Eastern Region, with highlights including the renewal of the Spital Ladder on the East Coast Mainline at Peterborough. Three programmes of work also took place to advance the multi-billion-pound Transpennine Route Upgrade project.
Spital Ladder Renewal – The work carried out at the Spital Ladder in Peterborough involved the like-for-like Switches and Crossings (S&C) renewal of the scissors crossover between the Down Slows, March Independent line, and the Down Fast. Issues were encountered with panel relaying, with the Kirow crane being slower than expected due to transit time to collect some of the panels from the lay down areas and the complexity and time required to manoeuvre the large diamond panel around various lineside structures. Time was also lost with additional preparation required for the crane outrigger pads. However, this time was mostly recovered throughout the overall programme.
SPC6/26A Cranfleet Cut Structure Renewal – The existing single span Underbridge that carries the Up and Down Slows lines over Cranfleet Canal, near New Sawley, Long Eaton, was removed and replaced with a new Twin U Deck structure. The existing structure was found to have inadequate capacity due to its poor condition with extensive corrosion, primarily at the connections between the Main and Cross girders. The work required 17 lifts with a 1,000 tonne crane and was completed in a 54-hour period.
Kentish Town Slab Track Stabilisation Phase 3 – Completion of these works brings an end to three phases of stabilisation works in the Kentish Town area. Between the early hours of Christmas Day and before the first service on Wednesday 5 January 2022, engineers removed older track – installed in 1979 – which has reinforced concrete slab underneath it. New ballasted track was then installed with stones and sleepers to support it. Two faults were raised regarding the poor condition of existing OLE and installation of baseplates on existing slab took a lot longer expected due to sheer amount of manual work required.
Sundon Feeder Station Decommissioning – Stage F1 of the London 2 Corby electrification project includes the removal of the existing Sundon Feeder Station (FS) from the overhead line equipment, and permanent removal of the feeding capability of the FS to the Midland Mainline. Works completed over Christmas included the recovery of bare feeders; cutting away and removal of Sundon FS risers; modified bypass switching to allow bypass function on all 4 roads; removal of associate masts and foundations; undertaking of bonding works; and the removal of the FS substation operating diagram.
Tyneside Recontrol – The Tyneside re-control project successfully re-controlled the current Integrated Electronic Control Centre (IECC) Classic VDU based Signalling Control System (VSCS) workstations onto new Westcad VSCS workstations, which control approximately 1,000 Signalling Equivalent Units (SEUs). Working with delivery partners Siemens, the recontrol to the new modular building was successfully completed on time with all new VSCS workstations now fully operational and controlling the railway.
Transpennine Route Upgrade (TRU)
Leeds Station – Phase 3b of the £126 million Leeds Station Capacity Programme was delivered during a series of full and partial closures aimed at keeping passenger disruption to a minimum. During this time, the track layout at Leeds station was amended along with associated changes to the overhead line and signalling. Platform 7 at the east end of the station was extended to enable four-car working, further increasing capacity at the station. In addition to these works a new six track under track crossing (UTX) to the west of the station was installed to increase cable route capacity. Despite losing a number of key staff who tested positive for Covid-19 during the works, control measures and contingency plans meant that the project continued as planned.
TRU – East of Leeds – TRU is split into two defined project areas which are to be delivered in phases. The first project in the East of Leeds section (Project E1) relates to a stretch of line between Church Fenton and York Station. Project E1 requires a series of interventions. Works over Christmas 2021 works included TAD tamping and OLE adjustments north of Colton Junction and signalling works between Church Fenton and Colton. The full scope of the OLE work was not completed, and 28 non-critical works were descoped to be planned later in 2022.
TRU – West of Leeds – Works at the Eastern side of Manchester Victoria Station were the next stage for TRU W1 leading to signalling recontrol and ultimately line speed increases planned for June 2022 for W1. Christmas saw the renewal of S&C on the Up and Down Rochdale Slow Lines; signal base works and the installation of signal MN709BR; and cable tray installation on Up and Down Ashton Lines. New Year 2021/22 saw the re-ballasting of S&C at the Eastern side of Manchester Victoria Station and follow up track works from the Christmas possession. Eight hundred metres of overhead line wire runs were reinstalled and BTET signage was commissioned.
North West and Central Region
Birmingham New St Area Re-signalling Phase 7 – This project, programmed to be commissioned at Christmas 2022 in a 54 hour all lines possession, will see the closure of Birmingham New Street power signal box with the control of signalling system transferred to the West Midlands Signalling Centre. To support the final commissioning the project has been split into multiple stages, this Christmas saw a variety of works, including signal rehearsal, stage 02 on the Stour Lines and the inclusion of Bromsgrove on to the Birmingham New Street network management system.
DCL/178 Stratford Upon Avon Canal Bridge – The original structure of this canal bridge had failed assessments, with significant corrosion and loss of section to critical structural elements identified. The bank holiday works consisted of the removal of track and existing bridge deck followed by the installation of a new deck with track reinstated. This was a complex operation requiring two Kirow cranes and a mobile crane in a field 500 metres away to lift in the new bridge components and remove the old components. Despite issues encountered in the works, resulting in a possession overrun of 2 hours and 30 minutes, the team was able to reinstate track at the planned 50mph TSR, to be removed in following weeks.
Coppull Hall Track Renewal – This was a renewal of the Up Main on West Coast Main Line, with a line enhanced permissible speed of 125mph for tilting trains . The existing rail and sleepers were removed and loaded into trains for removal. After excavating to 450mm, sand was installed prior to the ballast, sleepers, then rail. The site was fully welded then tamped and handed back at 60mph. There were several issues with train drivers and key staff having to isolate due to Covid, but close communications with SCO and site staff prevailed and all works were completed successfully.
Acton Bridge Drainage – The remit for this project required the Central Rail Systems Alliance to install new drainage throughout Acton Bridge station to improve drainage flow and help with track quality. Installation of new catchpits and pipe was also required. The works completed over the holiday period saw 328 metres of drainage renewal on the WCML through Acton Bridge station; a total of 10 new catch pits installed; and a UTX carried out to take the drainage from the 6ft to the down cess then through to the outfall. All works were carried out safely, on time and within budget.
West London Junction Track Renewal – West London Junction is located on the busy West Coast Main Line, 5 miles north of London Euston servicing freight, local commuter and national services. Works completed included plain line Track Renewal (Cat 14), with 138 metres completed, fully welded and stressed; and drainage works (Cat 15a) with 130 metres drainage installed of a planned 292 metres. The drainage run was curtailed renewal due to multiple machinery breakdowns and poor ground conditions due to weather.
Three projects took place in the Southern Region, with the greater focus on projects supporting the Victoria resignalling and recontrol project, a four-year package to modernise track and signalling on the line into Victoria Station.
Courthill South three-line Crossover and Courthill Loop North Junction – Work on these assets involved the renewal of 11 units of S&C – eight units at Courthill South (four switches and two switch diamonds) and three units at Courthill North (two switches and one fixed diamond) together with associated plain line renewals – 140 metres at North and 480 metres at South. All works were completed in three stages over the Christmas-New Year period.
Victoria Phase Three Re-signalling – This 10-day, 14-part possession saw the renewal of signalling assets between Clapham Streatham and Streatham Hill, and the recontrol of the area, including the West London Lines, to Three Bridges Rail Operating Centre. The blockade was a critical install phase, working towards the VIC3 commissioning at Christmas 2022. Problems encountered during the works included an oversized road crane being delivered and set up, blocking Road Rail Access Points (RRAP); damage to a Track Circuit Interrupter; and a water bowser, which was left close to the open line on the Down Brighton Slow, being struck by a Freight Train.
Pouparts Junction – The South Rail Systems Alliance (SRSA) renewed the two turnouts (278 and 279pts) at Pouparts Junction as part of the Victoria Re-signalling blockade. All works were completed in the 10-day blockade. However, due to the multi-part nature of the blockade the site experienced some periods of stand down when moving from one part of the blockade to another as they were required to sign in/out with the lead worksite engineering supervisor. This led to some delays to the programme, though this was recovered. Additionally, a welder was injured when exiting a van, suffering a sprained ankle.
Wales and Western Region
RED-ranked works took place at 12 locations across the Wales and Western region, including track renewals at Lipson Down, OLE works in Reading, and signalling renewal and enhancement in Bristol. What follows are just a few of the projects that took place over the period.
Wem Road Underbridge – A busy route into Wem was closed as Network Rail replaced a life expired railway bridge which passes over Mill Street. The project involved the removal of existing track and ballast; demolition of the existing structure and excavation; the installation of the new bridge; backfill, drainage, waterproofing and collision beam; reinstatement of the track and ballast; and tamp, stressing and welding. The project saw numerous lessons learnt. For example, knowledge of incomplete drainage should have been shared with Shropshire Council before the blockade, as complaints were attracted when the road flooded after the possession.
Paddington Line 3 Track Renewal – Works involved the completion of a renewal to reduce the risk of future speed restrictions and improve track quality. The works completed included a Cat 13 renewal (formation, sleeper and reballast) with a 100mm sand blanket. Covid-19 safety compliance was an issue, with minibus drivers not wearing or insisting staff wear masks between access and the site.
Paddington Train Detection – This project between Paddington and Airport Junction on the Western mainline saw a large number of life expired and obsolete Reed track circuits replaced with Frauscher axle counters. Work completed included Stage T Commissioning, delivery of 12 Relocatable Equipment Buildings (REBs), 700+ axle counter heads, new power and telecoms systems, and the introduction of new technologies in the form of Supervisor Track Sections and Counter Head Control. Thames Valley Signalling Centre (TVSC) saw the provision of four new scalable systems for the infrastructure changes and reconfiguration of interlocking and control systems, plus five new workstations. No issues were reported.
Ocean Canal Underbridge – This work saw the replacement of a bridge over the Ocean Canal in Stroud. The work took place to enable a canal restoration being led by Stroud District Council and the Cotswold Canal Trust. Works completed included the replacement of the bridge and drainage of the canal to enable the works. The new bridge sections, the largest of which weighed 64 tonnes, were lifted into place using a 1,200-tonne crane. All work was completed on time, other than the stressing of the track which was listed as curtailable prior to the blockade. Strong local and regional communications throughout the project were praised.
Parsons Tunnel North Portal – A new rock fall shelter is being installed to mitigate the impact of poor weather on the operation and safety of the railway between Dawlish and Holcombe in south Devon. The project is due for completion in September 2022. Six of 18 piles (33%) were installed during the Christmas works (pre-auger and casing installation only). Set up and breakdown of the auger was a time constraint, and the work proved a learning curve for future installations.
Work took place on just one RED-ranked project in Scotland, at Uddingston Junction, situated on the WCML between Motherwell and Glasgow. All works were completed per scope and the site was handed back at 50mph to plan.
Work over the holiday period included:
Track: the renewal of 2 x point ends, 41pts, 42pts at CAT 71; renewal of 2 x point ends, 43a & 43b pts at CAT 70; and renewal of 567y CAT 14; Renewal of 472y CAT 1.
S&T: TPWS Enhancements for signals GMN182, GMN183, GMN193; upgrade of track circuit to double tailed; and disconnection of boxes where required.
OHL: OHL registration works throughout.
Performance and handbacks
Of the 1,985 network wide possessions, 17 service-impacting possession overrun incidents occurred over the period, five of which were linked to delivery of major ‘red ranked’ schemes. These were:
- Eastern – Leeds Station Capacity − a 10-minute possession overrun occurred, generating 21 delay minutes due to delays picking up worksite marker boards as a result of possession staff shortages.
- Eastern – Sundon Feeder − complications with the installation of an electrical bond saw an overrun of 37 minutes. This incurred 16 delay minutes to an empty coaching stock service.
- Eastern – Crossrail Anglia & OLE Renewals − an overrun of 146 minutes occurred, generating 424 delay minutes, caused by failure of the recovery unit on the wiring train during the early stages of the work causing the programme to shift.
- Wales & Western – Filton East Curve − the late removal of detonator protection by possession staff during an interim handback on 27th December resulted in an overrun of 11 minutes, incurring 82 delay minutes.
- Southern – Victoria Phase 3 Resignalling − upon moving from part 10 to part 11 of the possession, protection boards had been left in place causing 166 overrun related delay minutes.
Non-service impacting minor possession overruns also occurred at Bletchley and Manchester Piccadilly, as well as an agreed 170-minute extension at Lapworth. In total, 889 minutes of possession overrun delays were incurred, considerably less than for the equivalent period during recent years.
As ever, safety was a priority on all project sites across the network. However, over the period there were nine reported accidents, one reported environmental incident, six reported general incidents, and three reported operational close calls. Of the nine accidents, two were minor injuries with no lost time, five were minor injuries with lost time, and two were classed as being RIDDOR reportable.
The first RIDDOR reportable accident occurred on Boxing Day during signalling recovery works in the Paddington area when, during the removal of pipework, a member of Alstom staff suffered a laceration above the left eye, caused by a piece of ballast. The second reportable accident took place on New Year’s Eve at the Uddingston Junction S&C renewals site in Scotland. Here, the individual in question suffered an injury after losing his balance while removing Fastclips.
Rail Engineer thanks all the dedicated professionals involved in these works for giving up their precious time over the Christmas period to ensure the network continues to run smoothly.
Congratulations on a job well done!