HomeRail NewsOut twice in May: A round-up of Team Orange’s bank holiday works

Out twice in May: A round-up of Team Orange’s bank holiday works

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Everyone looks forward to a Bank Holiday. Unless they have to work through it, in which case they can be a bit of a pain. Still, there’s often the ‘time in lieu’ to look forward to instead.

England and Wales, with eight public holidays a year, are amongst the least generous countries in Europe when it comes to public holidays. Scotland is better with nine, while Northern Ireland has ten.

For those lucky enough to get the time off, there is usually plenty to do. Markets, fairs, historic re-enactments, canal festivals and, of course, shopping! Retail workers are amongst those unlucky enough to have to work through the holidays, but for others it’s a good way to spend (!) a day’s holiday.

Network Rail falls into both camps. It works through the holidays – they are a good time to close commuter railways for maintenance while said commuters aren’t using them – but it also goes shopping. And it goes shopping in a big way. Over the two May bank holidays, it spent a total of £168 million on enhancing and improving the railway. That’s some spending spree.

As the month of May has two holiday weekends, planning is key. Work can be scheduled from late Friday night until early Monday morning. In a few circumstances, jobs can be done in two halves, three weeks apart, so long as the railway is restored to full working order in between times.

And that’s the key these days. The travelling public is becoming increasingly intolerant of trains being cancelled due to overrunning maintenance or, frankly, for any other reason.

To minimise the risk of overruns, every plan is subjected to an analysis through the Delivering Work Within Possessions (DWWP) standard. Those carrying a greater risk of overrun, or which would have a more significant impact on network performance in the event of an overrun, are designated RED. These need a clear set of contingency plans and project milestones so that work can be truncated early enough, if required, to prevent service-affecting overruns.

As these RED projects also tend to be the largest, or most taxing, or most critically required, they also tend to be the ones that Rail Engineer covers in its reports.

Early May

For the first May bank holiday, known as May Day though that’s actually 1 May and the holiday was over the weekend of 4-8 May, 12 worksites were identified as RED.

These included a signalling re-control in South London to support the Thameslink programme, bridge strengthening and repair works to support the North West Electrification Programme and a large programme of both S&C and plain line track renewals across the country. The latter tend to attract RED status, as not completing track renewals on time is the easiest way to disrupt the railway.

The work at Bletchley station was a 573-yard ballast renewal on the Up Fast to improve stability and track quality through the platform, at the same time installing a new sand blanket and geocomposite underneath ballast. A fairly conventional renewal, it consisted of removing the old track and digging out the old ballast, treating the formation with geoxtile and new ballast, relaying the track, welding and stressing the rail, tamping to consolidate the ballast and finally testing that all the signalling equipment was functioning correctly. Handback was at 80mph, as opposed to the planned post-construction temporary speed restriction (TSR) of 50mph.

A 197-yard re-rail, re-sleeper and re-ballast of the West Coast main line between Carnforth North junction and Tebay North junction was carried out to improve stability and track quality. The existing rail and sleepers were scrapped out and the formation excavated to 350mm. Once a Tracktex blanket had been laid under new bottom ballast, the original G44 concrete sleepers were replaced by ones with under-sleeper pads and the CEN56 rail by CEN60. Top ballast was dropped from open wagons and the track was then tamped. After signal testing, the site was handed back on time.

365 yards of the Down Cambridge line, through Royston station on the Cambridge branch, were re-railed, re-sleepered and re-ballasted. The existing track, a mixture of pan 8 wooden and F27 concrete sleepers, was burnt off into sections and removed. Bottom ballast was laid from open wagons onto Tracktex geotextile, new G44 concrete sleepers were placed using a seven-sleeper concrete beam, new rail was lifted in by road-rail vehicle (RRV) and then thimbled into place. Top ballast was added from autohopper wagons and then profiled and tamped.

The scope of work at St Johns station, between London and Chislehurst, was a complete re-rail, re-sleeper and re-ballast for 282 yards with an extra 12 yards of re-rail only. The track ran through Platform 1, the Up Slow, where a rough ride had been reported. Once the old track had been removed and the formation dug out to 200mm, PW1 geotextile was laid, followed by new ballast, sleepers and CWR (continuous welded rail), with the conductor rail being the last element to be completed. Handback was at linespeed (60mph) rather than an anticipated 50mph TSR.

The main objective for a 982-yard plain track renewal between New Cross Gate and Brockley was to upgrade the rails to harder-wearing CEN60 steel. Additional components, such as concrete sleepers and the latest Pandrol Fastclips, were also installed. Following a 250mm excavation, a layer of geotextile and new ballast was installed to shore up the formation to ensure longevity in lifespan for the new componentry. This was completed utilising RRV machines to panel out, dig and doze and replace track. This site was fully stressed and welded when it was handed back to operational traffic, on time.

Two S&C projects took place between Heathrow junction and Reading. At West Drayton, the S&C South Alliance carried out work on behalf of Crossrail to install (but not commission – that was carried out three weeks later) two new sets of points (one crossover) between the Up and Down Relief lines. New panels were brought in using Network Rail’s tilting wagons and were installed by a Kirow 250 crane. Handback was at 90mph linespeed.

Meantime, at Slough West junction, the life-expired S&C that formed two crossovers were replaced with modern equivalent components on concrete bearers. This renewal included associated power, signalling and overhead power line (OLE) adjustments. A Kirow 1200 crane was used for this one, and two tampers consolidated the ballast. Although all planned works were completed, the fast lines were handed back late on Tuesday morning, causing some delays to train services. However, as speed restrictions had already been put in place for the hot weather, the impact on passenger services was reduced.

The location of RED sites over the two May bank holidays.
The location of RED sites over the two May bank holidays.


The current enhancement of Glasgow Queen Street station includes platform extensions to increase its capacity and allow eight-car Class 385 trains to be run from December 2019. Work to allow seven-car trains to run was part of the 2016 Queen Street blockade. Further extensions to Platforms 2 to 5 await completion of the station refurbishment. During the early May bank holiday, work to extend Platform 1 by 50 metres to enable to accommodate four-car trains was completed.

The majority of the preparatory work for the extension of Platform 1 was completed in advance of the disruptive possession. Over the bank holiday, the new track was connected and aligned with the existing one and the buffer relocated to its extended position. The platform was resurfaced and the copings realigned, while the OLE catenary wire was cut, a new wire spliced in and the wire run re-tensioned. The existing dispatch equipment and TPWS transmitter loop were relocated and the workstation at Edinburgh IECC (Integrated Electronic Control Centre) reprogrammed to take account of the platform extension.

Further north, the Aberdeen to Inverness route is being improved. Phase one of this work, between Inverness and Elgin, including a new station at Forres, was completed in October. Phase two will reinstate 24 kilometres of double track between Kittybrewster, just outside Aberdeen, and Inverurie, enabling a half hourly service to be provided over this part of the route.

Over the early May bank holiday, phase two began in earnest with a weekend blockage of the line between Aberdeen and Dyce to start the redoubling work, with a bridge deck extension and waterproofing, as well as a bridge infill. On 14 May this section of the line closed for a 14-week blockade.

London North Western

In August 2017, during enabling works as part of the North West Electrification Programme, a serious third-party water main leak resulted in a landslip on the line just outside of Farnworth, Bolton. Due to ballast contamination and formation issues, around 175 metres of track on the Up and Down lines needed to be renewed. Concerns around potential undermining of the bridge abutments required the installation of steel props to brace the bridge foundations in advance of the track renewal works, which were undertaken during a 72-hour block over the early May bank holiday.

The steel props were installed in seven separate four-metre bays, excavated to a depth of 830mm. Each bay was back filled with fibre-reinforced concrete and allowed to cure before the laying of waterproofing and bottom ballast. Once all seven bays were complete and fully cured, the sleepers and rail were reinstalled on both lines, top ballast was dropped and both tracks tamped.

Welding and stressing were to be completed a few weeks later.


Park Bridge, New Beckenham, Elmers End and Hayes remote relay rooms were reconfigured onto new ‘Lewisham’ and ‘Grove Park’ workstations at Three Bridges ROC. Existing FDM (Frequency Division Multiplex) systems were replaced with Westplex through same area.

Two new workstations were commissioned at Three Bridges ROC to replace part of panel 5 and all of panel 6 from London Bridge ASC (Area Signalling Centre). The relevant signalling and telecoms equipment was migrated to allow the train service currently controlled from the existing London Bridge ASC workstations to be controlled from TBROC. Signal plates and telephone number signs and labelling were re-plated within the re-controlled area to reflect the new signal box location

Further north, the West Coast main line (WCML) between Weaver junction and Wavertree junction is a distance of 16 miles. The main running lines, all 25kV electrified, consist of a two-track railway from Weaver junction to Runcorn viaduct (approximately seven miles), then a four-track railway from Runcorn viaduct to Wavertree junction (approximately nine miles).

The railway infrastructure is being upgraded to support the introduction of a new, hourly passenger service between Liverpool and Chester via Runcorn in both directions. Extensive signalling, permanent way and power supply alterations are required to re-signal the area and transfer control to the Manchester Rail Operating Centre (MROC).

The area is controlled by five Signal Boxes (SBs): Halton, Runcorn, Ditton, Speke and Allerton. In a 99-hour possession, two of these, Runcorn and Halton, were recontrolled to the MROC. 31 signals were brought into use, 43 650V feeders were disconnected and 13 changed over and energised. While the blockade was handed back on time, there were two residual train describer issues, although these were not commissioning critical.

Late May bank holiday

Just three weeks later, and 19,000 members of Team Orange (the new name for the Orange Army) was out again for the late May bank holiday. This time, £78 million pounds of work was to be delivered across 600 work sites. Ten of the sites were classified as RED, as carrying a greater risk of overrun and/or having a more significant impact in the event of an overrun. These included three bridge replacements in the South East and Wessex routes, re-signalling works in the Birmingham area, final stages of overhead line installation at Halton Curve and a large programme of both S&C and plain line track renewals across the country.

As it happened, there was only one overrun – just over an hour at the Westdown Road bridge replacement owing to severe weather impacting the programme over the weekend which led to diversions for the first services on the morning of Tuesday 29th.

Halton Curve.
Halton Curve.

OLE and Signalling

The Halton Curve connects the Chester to Warrington line at Frodsham junction with the Liverpool – Crewe line at Halton junction. During the four-day Easter blockade, works were undertaken to install a new crossover and renew the turnout at Halton junction.

The works delivered by the S&C North Alliance OLE team over the late May bank holiday involved electrifying and section-proving a new wire run for the recently installed crossover at Halton Junction and overrun protection on the single line. Once the main conductor wire had been run and terminated, a new Arthur Flury type H125 section insulator was installed at the mid-point of the crossover. Prior to the blockade, a number of new OLE structures and small part steel had been installed in preparation for this weekend.

This was the final commissioning stage in the project to support the introduction of a new direct passenger service between Liverpool and Chester via the Curve.

Meanwhile, in the Midlands, the BNSAR (Birmingham New Street Area Renewals) project commissioned Phase 6, which included two hand-backs. The BNSAR signalling project combines a signalling renewal and a ‘relock’ transfer of existing interlockings. This will result in headway improvements, down from four to three minutes on non-stopping services, additional turn-backs for improved operational flexibility at Birmingham International station, auto-reconfigurable power supplies and the transfer of operational control to WMSC (West Midlands Signalling Centre).

During the bank holiday, existing SSIs (solid-state interlockings) were successfully ‘relocked’ from New Street Power Signal Box to the WMSC, the main lines between Adderley Park and Hampton-in-Arden were resignalled and redundant assets removed.

‘Down South’

Windsor Walk overbridge is a two-span structure which carries the two-lane Windsor Walk Road across four lines at Denmark Hill station – two ATL (Atlantic line – London Bridge to Victoria via Denmark Hill) and two CAT (Catford loop) lines. Its latest structural assessment concluded that the bridge suffered from significant defects and it had therefore been closed to vehicle traffic for the last four years.

Work is now being undertaken to repair and strengthen the bridge and allow vehicle traffic once again, up to a limit of 7.5 tonnes. A beamed crash deck was erected above the ATL and crash deck scaffolding above the CAT lines. Shrink-wrap encapsulation was installed to the external facade of the parapet access scaffolding and concrete was broken out from the main girder lower flanges.

As a result of stormy weather, some lifting activities were curtailed but this didn’t present a major issue as other activities could continue.

Also affected by the inclement weather were the works at Westdown Road underbridge – a single span structure supported on brick abutments which spans the public highway and carries two third-rail electrified tracks and a section of the platform at Catford station.

The bridge superstructure was in very poor condition, with holing to the webs. Furthermore, the deck type was undesirable with sleepers sitting in troughs, which has caused track-circuit failures in the past. During a 74-hour possession, the bridge superstructure, including adjacent platform sections was to be reconstructed.

The life-expired wheel timber bridge deck was removed, new precast reinforced concrete cill units and two U-type bridge decks installed, with ballasted tracks replaced on both the Up and Down CAT lines. New sections of platform were also installed and commissioned.

A number of issues were encountered over the weekend, including severe lightning storms on both Saturday and Sunday nights, which meant works had to be suspended for safety reasons. Issues were also encountered with the installation of the new platform sections. As a result of the delays caused by these issues, some non-critical activities were removed from the possession programme resulting in a 62-minute delay to the possession handback before both lines were reopened at line speed.

Another bridge reconstruction fell victim to the same lightning storm. Bellenden Road underbridge is a single-span structure, supported on brick abutments, which spans Bellenden Road and carries two third-rail electrified tracks between Peckham Rye station and Peckham Rye junction. The bridge had failed its assessment and was assessed as having an overall safe load route availability capacity of RA0 at 60 mph. During a 74-hour possession, the bridge superstructure was to be reconstructed to give a 120-year design life with improved load carrying capacity.

Over the holiday, the life-expired wheel timber bridge deck was removed, new precast reinforced concrete cill units and two U-type bridge decks installed, and the ballasted tracks replaced on both the Up and Down lines. However, as mentioned, the severe storm on Saturday night meant work had to be suspended for safety reasons. In addition, large voids were discovered behind the bridge abutments, which required additional works to be undertaken prior to the installation of the new bridge decks. As a result of the delays caused by these issues, some non-critical activities were removed from the possession programme so that the lines could be reopened on time to line speed.

A totally different problem, though still water-related, affected the replacement of Crompton Road bridge at Peasmarsh in Surrey. This carries New Pond Road over a two-track railway (WPH1 line) between Guildford and Farncombe, and One Team Wessex had been tasked with replacing this life-expired structure with a new precast concrete con-arch bridge on the existing abutments.

As planned, 30 metres of Ekki Matt track protection was lifted in and then the parapets demolished onto the bridge. The fill behind the abutments was excavated and the brick arch demolished. However, Thames Water had failed to provide the correct buried service information for
its assets and, as a consequence, during the demolition, a live water pipe was cut through which flooded part of the work site, fortunately with minimal programme impact.

Thames Water attended site to cut and cap the pipe so that demolition could be completed and two new pre-cast concrete cill units, four conarch units, four riser units and two parapet beams installed using a 550-tonne crawler crane.

More track

Unsurprisingly, the Infrastructure Projects Track team had its share of RED sites again during the second May holiday weekend.

IP Track is supporting the IP Signalling Leeds-Halifax resignalling scheme, which will transfer control to the York Regional Operating Centre. This required the installation of two new crossovers; one just off Platforms 1 and 2 at Interchange Station and one at Ripley junction, just outside the station, where the lines split for Leeds, Halifax and Huddersfield. These will be brought into operational use in October 2018 during the overall resignalling commissioning phase and will enable greater operational flexibility and capacity for platform use at Interchange Station.

To improve stability and track quality on the three-line section of the West Coast main line over the M6 between Preston and Gretna, the existing CEN56 rail is being replaced by CEN60, G44 concrete sleepers exchanged for ones with under-sleeper pads and the whole ballast replaced to a depth of 300mm on top of a Tracktex blanket. The hard shoulders and adjacent M6 carriageway on each side were closed to enable safe renewal of the new ballast on the section spanning the motorway and both road and railway were reopened on time after the 47-hour possession.

Sevenoaks Tunnel has featured in Rail Engineer a couple of times (issue 160, February 2018 and issue 148, February 2017), primarily due to a prolonged drainage replacement through the tunnel along the six-foot. The late May bank holiday saw the renewal of the Up Main line, a combination of two specifications with the majority of the renewal being within the tunnel limits. The scope included replacing 1,159 yards of track components – new EG47s CEN60 sherardised concrete sleepers with under sleeper pads, new CEN60 rail, fastenings and ballast. There was also a formation treatment with a dig depth of 250mm and a layer of geotextile to be installed. In all, the possession lasted 74 hours and 45 minutes (01:15 Saturday to 04:00 Tuesday) and the line was handed back on time.

Worcester Foregate Street station was the site of work to install new track from the Malvern side, through the station itself and ending on Worcester Curve prior to Shrub Hill station. This was to improve ride quality and to reduce both the need for maintenance and speed restriction. All of the planned yardage was completed, with a reduced dig depth on the Curve section as a mitigation invoked due to an early possession programme delay. The site was handed back on time and ready for the maintenance team to remove the temporary speed restriction over the next few weeks.

So, after two holiday weekends in May, Network Rail came a little bit closer towards reaching its renewals and enhancement targets for CP5. As Martin Frobisher, route managing director for London North West, said: “There is never a good time to carry out work that affects services but we worked closely with the train operators for it to cause the least amount of disruption.”

No doubt Team Orange will all be out again on Friday night, 24 August, for the Next bank holiday. It never ends…

Read more: Derby station remodelling



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