The Derbyshire town of Ilkeston, population 38,640, has been tagged with the title of “England’s largest town on a passenger railway line without a railway station”. It’s predecessor, Corby (pop. 61,300) received its station in 2009.
At one time, however, Ilkeston was almost a railway town with no fewer than three stations. Ilkeston Junction, or more properly ‘Ilkeston Junction and Cossall’ was opened by the Midland Railway in 1847. At that time it was at the edge of the town on the Erewash Valley line, the line that extends the Midland main line north from Trent Junction and runs between Nottingham and Chesterfield on its way to Sheffield.
From Ilkeston Junction, a short branch ran in to Ilkeston Town.
Ilkeston North, on the other hand, was opened by the Great Northern in 1878 as part of its Derbyshire and Staffordshire Extension, immediately to the west of Bennerley Viaduct.
However, everything came to an end with the decline of the railways. Ilkeston Town closed to passengers in 1950 and to freight as well in 1960, Ilkeston North closed in 1964 and Ilkeston Junction in 1967.
And so Ilkeston passed into the railway wilderness. Ilkeston Town was demolished and a Tesco supermarket built on the site while Ilkeston North was replaced by a police station.
Ilkeston Junction became a scrapyard and wasteland with Cossall Colliery alongside. All that was retained was the footbridge, the top deck of which was effectively the pavement alongside the road overbridge on Coronation Road as that was too narrow to have a dedicated footpath.
Fast forward to 2013, and Derbyshire County Council saw the potential for benefits in building a new station in Ilkeston. It put together a business case that helped the case for creating the Government’s New Stations Fund and, ultimately, a funding offer. A new station on the site of the old Ilkeston Junction station could cut commuter times into Nottingham, open up job opportunities along the line for people living in the town and help boost the town’s economy.
Since this was a mining area, site investigation followed which resulted in the discovery of that rare species – the Great Crested Newt. Delays occurred while the site was cleared of these pesky amphibians. In fact, it had to be cleared twice, a total of 171 newts being removed at a cost to Derbyshire County Council of £74,120 (that’s £433 per newt!).
There were also flooding concerns – the area is a flood plain for the River Erewash – and the station had to be de-scoped to avoid work in the flood plain.
The mine workings beneath the platform and bridge structures needed to be stabilised prior to their installation. Bores were drilled at three-metre centres and 24 metres deep.
However, once all of the preliminary works (and delays) were completed and the funding was in place (£2.26 million from Derbyshire County Council, £6.674 million from New Stations Fund and £1 million contributed by Nottingham Housing Market Area), work could start.
The construction team from Galliford Try arrived on site on Monday 4 April 2016. There was very little to see, just a derelict scrapyard with a gate across the road, but that road was Station Street, so there was a good chance they were in the right place.
The design was undertaken by AECOM on behalf of Derbyshire County Council. It is for an unmanned station with two four-car platforms, 100 metres long, one each side of the twin track railway. A new steel footbridge, with DDA-compliant ramps for wheelchair users, replaces the existing bridge which dated back to the old Ilkeston Junction station and has two tie-in spans to the footway on Coronation Road.
There is actually a third track – a bi-directional Slow line, used solely for freight, to the east of the two main line tracks. This would curve around the back of the new station and not have a platform face.
The railway runs approximately north-south. The design calls for a dropping-off point, disabled car park and taxi rank on the west side, accessed from Station Street, and a longer-term car park on the eastern side with a simple connection out towards the A610. Originally, this main car park was planned to stretch right down to the trackside fence, but concerns about the stability of the ground, coupled with the need to maintain the flood plain by providing extra flood storage volume to counter the station’s land take, reduced its size “significantly”, to a capacity of 90 vehicles.
Work under way
Derbyshire County Council engaged Network rail to procure the project and oversee its installation. Galliford Try’s contract with Network Rail to build the station was awarded as part of its framework agreement for building projects in the Central Region East Midlands route, awarded to recent acquisition Miller Construction in 2014.
The first job, apart from clearing the site, was muck shifting to create the two car parks and the storage ponds. 3,000 tonnes from the western drop-off point site and 6-7,000 tonnes from the main eastern car park, undertaken by civils subcontractor Oakfield Construction.
The old footbridge, the last vestige of the original station, came down. This would also remove the footpath alongside the road bridge on Coronation Road – it would be closed for 22 weeks.
Piling followed. Universal Piling and Construction (UPAC) installed one hundred and twenty 350mm diameter CFA (continuous flight auger) piles 13 metres long for the platforms and one hundred and thirty-three 450mm diameter CFA piles, 11 metres long, for the new footbridge. Some of the work was carried out at night during nine-hour weekend possessions and six-hour midweek ones.
The two tracks were also slewed and raised slightly, straightening them out ready for the new station.
Once the piles were in place, 106 of the platform piles were topped with square-section concrete caps. These would form the base for the beams for the modular concrete platform, aimed at maintaining as much flood storage capacity as possible.
Similarly, 34 pile caps formed the base for the new steel fabricated footbridge. This arrived in sections to be lifted into place. Due to the constricted site, this process had to be carefully managed. A 500-tonne crane from Baldwins lifted the main span over the passenger lines at night during one of the weekend possessions and with a complete road closure.
On a second weekend, a 350-tonne crane hoisted into position the section that would cross the Slow line.
Crawler cranes, positioned in the 10-foot between the Up Fast line and the Slow, and another in the east car park, erected the access ramps while a 40-tonne crane in the car park positioned the tie-in spans.
The platform beams and slabs were installed using 21-tonne excavators positioned behind the platforms. The rearward slabs could be installed during daytime working, but the beams and slabs on the ‘front’ halves of the platforms, nearest to the live railway, had to be positioned during a night-time possessions/line blocks.
Galliford Try’s project manager Matt Rippin explained that, once the concrete slabs for the platforms were in place, a layer of tarmac was added to finish the whole thing off and retain the copers and tactile strip (the ‘bobbles’ that mark the safe distance from the platform edge for the benefit of the sight-impaired). Fit out of the platforms, the mechanical and electrical works, LED lighting, CCTV and ticket machines, was undertaken by Railway Electrical Services (RES).
Out in the car parks, tarmac was laid, earth banks (soon to be grassy banks) were sculpted, trees were planted, flood relief ponds were dug and drainage and soak-aways installed.
Just ten months after work commenced, on 6 February 2017, the station was substantially complete. Two months of snagging, testing and evaluation by Ricardo Rail and ORR approval would follow before the actual opening of the station to train services on 2 April 2017 – almost exactly a year after construction started.
Derbyshire County Council is very pleased with its new station. Councillor Dean Collins, the council’s cabinet member for highways, transport and infrastructure, sees two roles for it. “Ilkeston station will be a great boost to the area,” he said. “It will mean much quicker commuting times (for residents who travel to Sheffield and Nottingham for work) and it will improve connectivity to nearby major towns and cities, helping to encourage visitors and bring new business opportunities to the area.”
Dionne Cox, Network Rail’s senior programme manager based at nearby Derby, explained that Derbyshire County Council, Network Rail and principal contractor Galliford Try had worked well together and minimised the inconvenience for local residents, some of whom live right next to the station site.
Northern Rail will operate the main train service hourly between Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds. East Midlands Trains are the station operator and will supply the train services, not only to Nottingham and Sheffield but, as area station manager Rob Burton explained, the Norwich to Liverpool service will be one of the trains that stops, linking the Derbyshire town with Merseyside and Norfolk. The 100-metre platforms are the exact length of a four-car Class 158 train, or can be used by a five- car Meridian if it is stopped precisely as the end doors are crew-only.
160,000 passengers a year are expected to use the new station initially, rising to 250,000 over time. A commute to Nottingham will take 15-20 minutes, as opposed to 40-60 by road, with similar time-savings to Sheffield.
So buy a house in Ilkeston now, the prices are sure to go up!
Written by Nigel Wordsworth