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Former railway tunnels opened as cycle trails in Peak District

Light has been shed on four former railway tunnels in the Peak District National Park which have now be opened up to the general public as cycle trails.

The National Park Authority is improving the trail between Bakewell and Wye Dale by opening the tunnels for use by cyclists, walkers and horse riders, which have previously been closed for safety reasons.

The work is part of the £2.25m Pedal Peak District project, to encourage more people to cycle in the park.

As the project is located within the National Park, there have been constraints as much of the work was carried out in areas requiring Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) consent from Natural England.

Contractor J Murphy & Sons Limited, working for the Peak District National Park Authority, has installed new cabling to light up the tunnels on the Monsal Trail which runs between Bakewell to three miles south of Buxton.

They were constructed as part of the Midland Railway line in the 1860s, which closed in 1968 as a result of the Beeching Report.

Murphy has also carried out six kilometres of surfacing to the trail and in Headstone, Cressbrook and Litton tunnels.

Network Rail forms Network Rail Telecoms

As this month sees the Signalling & Telecommunications issue of the rail engineer, it is opportune that Network Rail chose this month to announce the formation of Network Rail Telecoms.

Making the announcement, Peter Henderson, group asset management director, stated:

“Network Rail Telecoms has been created to design and deliver a new, single, unified telecoms organisation focussing, among other things, on improving the effectiveness of our deployment and use of telecoms assets and managing whole life telecoms in the most efficient manner.

“The team will be responsible for all of our telecoms assets, strategy and policy decisions, including operating, maintaining and enhancing our assets. They will also be responsible for the design and delivery of the service to the customer.”

To head up this new operation Andy Hudson has joined Network Rail as Telecoms Director.

He is currently vice president field operations and infrastructure engineering at Interoute Telecom, where he has helped transform the business from a fledgling operator to a successful European carrier. Andy takes up his new post in September.

Clive Kessell, writer for the rail engineer who headed up the Telecommunications Engineering department of BR and who was the Engineering Director at British Rail Telecoms before it was privatised, commented:

“It is good to see Network Rail recognising that telecommunications form an important part of railway operations by creating this new single department. The wheel seems to have gone full circle.”

North Cotswold rail line redoubling complete

The £70m improvement work on the North Cotswold rail line was completed on 22 August.

Parts of the line between Worcester and Oxford have been redoubled with a total of 21 miles of extra track having been laid.

Signalling and stations along the route have also been improved.

The final part of the project was a 16-day blockade in August when 15 miles of double track were aligned, tamped, stressed and welded between Moreton-in-Marsh and Evesham.

The first train ran through the new section at 6am and marks the culmination of a project that started in summer 2009 with double track laid in Chipping Camden Tunnel.

King’s Cross square revealed

In a major article, this month’s issue of the rail engineer refers to plans to open up the space in front of Kings Cross station currently covered by the southern concourse.

As we went to press, Network Rail released their first plans for the new King’s Cross Square, work on which will commence after the Olympics towards the end of 2012. At more than 7000 square metres, it will be 50% bigger than Leicester Square and will reveal the stunning Grade I listed Victorian station façade for the first time in almost 150 years.

Architects Stanton Williams were chosen to work with Network Rail on the new square following an international design competition, attracting entries from more than 100 architects and urban designers from around the world. Network Rail says that “The square has been carefully designed to complement the area’s rich history and provide a modern, open space in the heart of London”.

Alan Stanton, director of Stanton Williams, said: “King’s Cross Square is a unique opportunity to create a new public space for London and a response to one of the most exciting urban challenges in the city. The scheme will become a focal point at the heart of the wider King’s Cross development bringing together major urban and transport improvements”.


Royal Rebuild

You have probably all seen the new Network Rail poster “Next Stop: Year 2186”. The first time I saw it, I was on my way to meet Mike Palmer, Network Rail’s Project Manager, responsible for the current round of engineering work on the Royal Albert Bridge. The bridge features prominently on the new poster and Mike’s project sits comfortably with the poster’s message of “Getting the Great Western Main Line ready for the next 175 years”. The fascinating project outline in this article might not extend the life expectancy of the bridge very much but it will certainly make a significant contribution.

In 1952, the bridge was pronounced a Grade 1 listed structure by English Heritage. As a consequence, Mike’s project had to undergo considerable scrutiny before approval was finally granted and every effort has been taken to maintain the original Brunel features even though some no longer contribute to the structural integrity of the bridge. The £10m project involves replacing more than 50,000 bolts, carrying out significant steelwork repairs using 100 tonnes of new steelwork, the removal of up to 46 layers of paint and then covering the bare metal with a new protective system using 36,000 litres of special paint designed for harsh marine environments.

Public consultation

However, before the engineering work could start, the local community had to be involved since the bridge not only straddles the River Tamar, the boundary between Devon and Cornwall, it also spans over part of the town of Saltash on the Cornish embankment. There are many homes and other buildings that sit below and around the structure and these residents are understandably, very proud of what they consider to be “their” bridge. It has formed part of their landscape for many years making a very positive contribution to their community. However, over the years and now centuries, there have been a few concerns about noise and lead pollution whenever major engineering is taking place.

To ensure that the community was fully engaged in the project two meetings were held, each one attracting more than 100 local residents. Many of the residents had previously worked on the bridge and some came with trophies and exhibits of the bridge removed by previous generations of engineers. School children were shown how the bridge worked. Metal hangers and tubes were used to mimic the bridge and the children had to guess how many bricks the structure could hold. Plenty of advice was given and this feedback heavily influenced how the work was to be staged.

Knowledge of the structure

The design work has been carried out by global consultancy company AECOM. It recently took over Faber Maunsell and has inherited its considerable knowledge of the structure represented by one of its lead designers, George Lawlor, who has carried out detailed examinations and assessments of the bridge over recent years. Taziker Industrial Ltd won the contract in what Mike described as a very competitive contest with highly innovative submissions from a number of companies. Taziker Industrial (TI) is the principal contractor on site and will be carrying out all the scaffolding, surface preparation, steelwork repairs and painting themselves using only its internal staff. TI recently carried out similar work to Weston Mill Viaduct which is situated in Plymouth, about a mile away, carrying the railway over the entrance to Devonport docks.

The project has just started and it is expected to take two years to complete. The site compound and offices are now in place on the Plymouth embankment at track level for ease of access. At present, only the approach scaffolding is in place alongside two satellite compounds situated one on each bank. All the work will take place on the two central bow arched spans. This contract does not include any ongoing work to the approach spans. The work will be carried out in five stages to ensure that the additional loading imposed on the bridge structure resulting from the scaffolding and equipment will be within acceptable loading tolerances.

HAKI scaffolding system

TI is using the HAKI scaffolding system which is not only lightweight but has unique features built into the design. The scaffold which will include a pitched roof to avoid rainwater gathering, will be encapsulated to create a contained working environment. This will reduce noise levels and ensure that polluted matter will not escape. Within this scaffold tunnel, there will be an additional tunnel around the track to allow trains to run through the work area.

On the Tamar, even on a sunny still day the airflow through the bridge structure can be considerable and very variable which means that, in very high winds, the encapsulating membrane round the scaffold can act like a sail and impose significant additional loading onto the structure. To combat this concern the HAKI system is designed so that each encapsulating membrane is retained within a vertical channel on either side. This enables it to be retracted like a “roller blind” in the event of high winds reaching a pre-determined level. The retraction can be carried out quickly and safely to minimise wind loading on the structure from the additional surface area.

The aim is to ensure that only one fifth of each span is covered at any one time. Two short sections of scaffold will be erected and encapsulated at each end of each span, making four sections. The two sections on each span will then be moved toward each other in stages as the work progresses and they will finally meet in the centre of each span to form the fifth phase.

Painting system

Once each worksite is sealed, the removal of the numerous layers of paint can commence. Up to 46 layers of paint and corrosion will be grit blasted back to bare metal. This will expose the true extent of any corrosion damage and enable engineers to determine the precise remedial action necessary. It will also provide the painters with a clean surface to apply the three coat protective system, supplied by Leighs Paints which comprises a zinc primer, a glass flake epoxy intermediate coat and an impact resistant polyurethane finish coat. These will be sprayed on to the structure with hand painting in difficult areas.

The paint is expected to provide a 25-year protection to the structure which will be quite an achievement in this exposed, corrosive environment. Previous systems have only been effective for about seven years so this should offer a significant saving on future maintenance costs. The final colour selected is goose grey. The original colour of the bridge was an off white and was subsequently painted in various shades of browns, white and red until in 1911 it was painted grey and has remained that colour ever since.

Wherever possible, the grit blasting will be confined to daylight hours to minimise disturbance to the local community. Inevitably, there will be some noise when they work at track level and night time possessions are in place.

The intention is to clean the work area after each shift to remove all the grit, old lead-based paint flakes and other debris. To do this TI is installing industrial vacuum units. These units will be placed adjacent to the bridge so that the debris can be sucked out of the encapsulated working area with heavy particles going directly into vacuum skips and airborne particles into separate filtered skips ready for removal off site.

Steelwork repairs

Although the bridge is considered to be in a generally good condition, a major part of the work is to carry out steelwork repairs, especially to those parts that cannot normally be reached. One key area is where the vertical hangers supporting the track deck are attached to the arched tubes at the top of the structure. The main bolts to these hanger connections are known to be corroded and the diagonal bracings are not working effectively. Whilst repairs are being carried out to one hanger connection, the adjacent connection and the two on the opposite side of the tube will be strengthened with additional bolts until the repair has been completed. This sequence will be repeated for all the hanger joints until all have been repaired.

Brunel innovation

It is interesting to note that the corroded main bolt for each joint will become redundant when the repair is complete. However, each bolt is being retained to ensure that Brunel’s original engineering thoughts, intentions and actions are retained. Another example of this commitment to heritage is at track deck level where Brunel introduced diagonal cross girders. This system enabled Brunel to use a more slender section because the axle loads would always bear on more than one girder at a time thus reducing the load on each element. These diagonal girders became redundant in the early 20th Century when new cross girders were introduced at right angles to the track, but all one hundred and seventy six will be repaired under this current programme of work.

So everything is ready. The local community will be looking on with interest. Local charities and museums are to be offered fragments of the bridge to auction or exhibit and some of the bridge metalwork no longer required will be donated to local artists and sculptures to use as they see fit. This is a thoughtful way of engaging local residents. After all, The Royal Albert Bridge is part of their community; they will be hoping that their grandchildren will be able to view this magnificent structure in 2186, as well as the trains that will hopefully still be travelling across this significant county boundary, just as they have for the last 150 years.

Deutsche Bahn seeks ICE approval

Deutsche Bahn has submitted an application for fundamental approval of its ICE trains for the Channel Tunnel to the responsible safety authority, the Intergovernmental Commission (IGC).

“We have provided all the evidence necessary for the fundamental approval of our ICE trains in the Channel Tunnel. This means that we are now much closer to meeting all the requirements for a direct ICE service between London and cities such as Cologne, Frankfurt and Amsterdam,” says Ulrich Homburg, the DB Management Board member responsible for Passenger Transport.

An independent Swiss engineering office prepared a comprehensive safety study for the submission on behalf of DB. This provided evidence of the safety compliant features of the 200-metre long ICE trainsets in both single and double traction mode. In addition, extensive evacuation simulations were performed by a second group of experts, and DB also successfully completed an evacuation test inside the Channel Tunnel with two coupled ICE trains in October 2010.

DB hopes to start passenger services in 2013.

Eurocodes Decoded

Swapping commas for decimal places, executing a structure rather than building it, and different concrete strengths for cylinders over cubes are just some of the new realities facing engineers using Eurocodes, the recently introduced structural design standards.

The switch to Eurocodes is an enormous challenge for the industry. The Institution of Structural Engineers calls it, ‘the biggest change to codified structural design ever experienced in the UK’. Never before has an entire set of codes been replaced in such a manner – and the magnitude of the change is greatly compounded by the sheer number of new documents.

On 4 June 2011, a new Network Rail standard for the design of bridges came into force which mandates the use of Eurocodes. Against this backdrop, Network Rail arranged for Parsons Brinckerhoff to provide an intensive period of Eurocodes training for its engineers and managers to ensure project and asset staff have an awareness and understanding of the significant changes that arise from the new codes.

The mandate

The Eurocodes have been over 25 years in development but are now with us. Published as 10 codes in 58 parts, they cover the structural and geotechnical design of buildings and civil engineering works. They include bridges, buildings, retaining walls, earthworks or minor foundations for location cabinets – in fact, virtually all aspects of civil engineering.

The conflicting British Standards were withdrawn at the end of March 2010. Gone are the codes familiar to many engineers, including BS 5400 for bridges, BS 8110 for concrete, BS 5950 for steel, BS 6399 for loads, and BS 8004 for foundations.

Withdrawal of these standards does not mean they have become unsafe; rather, that they are no longer supported or developed. However, for structural and geotechnical engineers working for public sector clients the withdrawal has had a profound effect.

The European Public Procurement Directive requires publicly funded works to be designed to current standards. Major clients, including Network Rail, have concluded that the Eurocodes must therefore be specified for newly-procured design work.

Network Rail has issued and updated key documents to implement this requirement. The new Design of Bridges standard NR/L3/CIV/020, published in March, confirms that the Structural Eurocodes must be used for design of new structures and gives additional client requirements particularly for the application of railway loading. A new Engineering Assurance standard, NR/L2/CIV/003, was published in June and brings significant changes to the technical approval process – these changes include aligning the process with the requirements of the Eurocodes.

All change

In addition to the 58 parts of the Eurocodes, there are 58 corresponding National Annexes which must be used in conjunction. These contain values, procedures, and decisions for nationally determined parameters. Designs for the UK must use the UK-specific decisions on these parameters. Other countries may have made different decisions. Typical examples of parameters found in the National Annex are partial factors and climatic data such as wind and temperature charts.

There is new and different terminology – a classic pitfall is the major axis bending modulus, now termed IYY, which was previously the minor axis modulus – not one to get the wrong way round. The language is English, but it is a Euro-English designed to ensure accurate and unambiguous translation into the different national languages. This gives a few surprising terms – ‘action’ to encompass ‘load’, ‘execution’ instead of ‘construction’. And the codes use the European convention of using the comma for a decimal point.

It is not just the design standards that are changing. A new series of harmonised European product standards has been introduced over the last few years, affecting specification of steel, concrete, reinforcement, and other construction materials. Amongst other things, these give the relationship between concrete cylinder strength, used in design, and cube strength, used in UK site tests. Similarly, there is a suite of new construction standards covering tolerances, quality and supervision – these are having a profound effect on manufacturers and fabricators.

So for the archetypal project engineer with the ability to reel off a string of relevant standards and clause numbers, there is a lot to re-learn. One of the few areas which will not change is bridge assessment and related strengthening and repair works to existing structures, which will continue to be carried out using the existing standards.

Training and support

Parsons Brinckerhoff has been at the heart of Eurocodes development for many years – Parsons Brinckerhoff’s Engineering Director, Steve Denton, chairs the European Committee with responsibilities for the Eurocodes relevant to bridges and sits on many of the British Standards Eurocodes committees. The company has been providing strategic and technical support to clients for much of the last decade and has had extensive involvement in drafting passages of the UK national annexes. It was therefore natural for Network Rail to select Parsons Brinckerhoff to support its transition to the Eurocodes.

Bespoke courses were developed and delivered specifically for Network Rail, including three-day courses on bridges, buildings and geotechnical design. During 2010, Parsons Brinckerhoff’s Eurocodes experts travelled the length and breadth of the country, from London to Larbert, Watford to Walsall, delivering 28 training courses to over 350 Network Rail staff. More courses are planned for the rest of 2011.

In addition, Parsons Brinckerhoff has assisted in addressing strategic implementation challenges, in particular collaborating with Network Rail’s in-house experts to define technical requirements for the application of Eurocodes.


Clearly time and investment are required to climb the learning curve – but once this is done, the Eurocodes are expected to bring a range of benefits: they are based on the latest science; they are more consistent and rational; and there have been some positive advances in terms of methods used.

The Eurocodes approach begins with general principles and then develops specific application rules. In contrast the traditional British Standards tended to be more procedural. Therefore, although the Eurocodes demand a greater technical understanding from designers, they offer greater flexibility and the ability to deal with non-standard situations which could be a particular advantage in the rail environment with its many constraints.

These design objectives are set out in Section 6 of Network Rail’s Design of Bridges standard and include maintenance, robustness, mechanical resistance and economic considerations. Thus, whilst the Eurocodes’ flexibility could permit the use of advanced modelling techniques to optimise designs, particularly the buckling behaviour of steel structures, this advance needs to be balanced against other requirements. Following a bridge strike, for example, a rapid and safe decision is required on whether a bridge can be loaded, preferably without needing extensive high-end computer analysis.

Rail traffic loads are still based on international rail standard UIC 776-1, so the basic load models are unchanged. New material has been included drawing on European experience with high speed lines, including high speed train models and information and rules on dynamic analysis. This will be of particular relevance as High Speed 2 progresses as this project, like Crossrail, will use Eurocodes.

A question of principle

Designers will clearly need to immerse themselves in the detail of the new codes. This is already happening – Redhayes Bridge is the first major bridge in this country designed to Eurocodes, by Parsons Brinckerhoff for client Devon County Council, and was erected in February 2011. Likewise, Network Rail’s new standard underbridge designs have been checked by Mott MacDonald to be Eurocode-compliant – the Approval in Principal documents list treatment of matters not covered by the standards such as calculation of U-frame restraint forces.

Client staff in a technical approval role will be in a particularly challenging position, albeit a step removed from the nitty-gritty of detailed design. Staff will need to have an awareness and understanding of the changes that will result, and ensure that appropriate processes are put in place to manage this change.

Additional measures may be needed during the transition period to assure the competency of engineers in using the new codes. These may include upgraded independent checking or increased levels of design review by in-house Eurocodes experts.

Fortunately, the benefit of many years of experience using the old codes can still be brought to bear, and the fundamental principles of design and construction should not change. In practice, for Eurocode designs this means that there should be few conceptual differences to emerging proposals up to the Approval in Principle stage.

Associated with the new Engineering Assurance standard are a series of forms, due to be published later this year, which cover the Eurocode technical design requirements. Over 200 clauses in the Eurocodes permit project-specific choice – some are expected to be specified by Network Rail, some will require technical approval, others may require a design choice to be recorded on the forms and some may only be relevant in unusual circumstances. A particularly important example is the load classification factor α, a multiplication factor for rail traffic loads.

The future’s Euro

With effective implementation, the Eurocodes offer a number of significant benefits in the areas of best value, best practice and innovation. It will take the right training, management and effort to realise these. Parsons Brinckerhoff has been at the forefront of this industry-wide effort, with involvement in Eurocodes development, leading-edge design work, strategic and technical assistance and training programmes. The first Eurocode designs are now being constructed – soon, every new structure will be a Eurocode structure.


Getting in the swing

Huge skies. That’s what you get on the Norfolk Broads. Huge skies and flat landscapes. Not, perhaps, as flat as the Cambridgeshire Fens which seem almost concave, but nevertheless flat enough for you to see for miles. In the distance there can be sails moving slowly through the fields amongst the remains of drainage windmills. Those holiday makers intrepid enough to venture from the safe haven of the North Rivers to the wilder Southern Rivers – the Yare and the Waveney – will come across several iconic structures.

The Broadland swing bridges were built to accommodate tall trading vessels bound for Norwich or Beccles in Suffolk. Over the years several lines closed and with them three of the bridges – Aldeby and Haddiscoe over the Waveney and the huge Breydon Water swing bridge. But despite the closures, Network Rail still owns four swing bridges in the Anglia area, Trowse, Reedham, Somerleyton and Oulton Broad – all of which must be able to open for river traffic – a requirement of the original acts of parliament.

Challenging mixture of disciplines

Bob Chatten is Network Rail’s electrification and plant maintenance engineer and is responsible for all the swing bridges. They are a challenging mixture of disciplines. They carry track that has to return to a safe state after each bridge opening. The basic load carrying structures are conventional bridges, the lifting and swinging components are mechanical plant. They are also linked into the signalling system and are operated by signallers who have to be trained to open and close them. The Trowse structure also carries overhead line electrification – a unique feature in the UK.


Swing bridges can be either very simple structures with fiendishly complex controls or they can be complex structures whose operation is simplicity itself.

Trowse is the youngest and simplest structure and is just outside Norwich station. It spans the river Wensum just before it flows into the Yare – the river that flows out to sea at Yarmouth. It’s several years since the last coastal freighter berthed in the centre of Norwich. Holiday and leisure craft are now all that need to have the bridge swung.

The present structure was built in 1986 at the time of the electrification of the Ipswich to Norwich section of the Great Eastern main line. It seemed like a good idea to restrict it to a single track – hindsight is a wonderful luxury! It’s a compact structure. The bridge swings on a pivot at the river’s edge. To reduce encroachment into the river bank it has a short landward span with a massive counterweight slung underneath to counter-balance the river span.

Like all of the swing bridges, when they are open to rail traffic they sit solidly on both landward bearings and the pivot pier.

This poses the question – how are they freed from these bearings so that they can be swung with a minimum of effort. The answer is that they have to be jacked up clear of their bearings.

The Norwich structure uses brute force. The whole bridge is lifted at the pivot, chocked and then swung clear of the river.

Obliterated electronics

Up to 2008 all was well. Then came a violent thunderstorm and a lightning strike completely obliterated the electronic control system of the hydraulics. The bridge was stuck – shut to the river. Bearing in mind that the original electronics were of 1980s vintage it proved very difficult to carry out like-for-like repairs. In fact, the damage was so great that the whole of the control gear had to be rebuilt from scratch.

In conjunction with Converteam UK Ltd it has taken several years of trial and error to build a new control system. There is very little time during the night both to experiment with settings and to return the bridge to a serviceable condition before the early morning London trains are due.

There are a large number of stages involved in opening a bridge with overhead line electrification – which has to be isolated – that is linked into colour light signalling and that carries around eight trains an hour. The hydraulic jacks have to operate to millimetre accuracy and all have to be detected.

Once the structure is airborne and clear of encumbrances it can be spun by hydraulic motors. The jacks and transducers are located in the counterweight swing pit and controlled from the operating room beneath the signalbox. The sequences are controlled by banks of computers.

With a completely refurbished control system the bridge is close to being fully operational. The bridge isolates itself, lifts clear of the bearings and swings smoothly and silently.

Complicated structures

It is easy to misinterpret the structures of the old swingbridges at Reedham, Somerleyton and Oulton Broad. Dominating the skyline are slender steel sections that rise above the central piers giving the impression that they are involved in carrying the trains. They’re not of course, they’re much too slender. A Victorian Broadland swingbridge consists of two separate elements within the moving bridge. There are the track/train carrying structures both of which are over the river – one span over the navigable section and one over the non-navigable section. There is also a cradle (the visibly dominant bit) that carries these two spans when the bridge is open to river traffic.

To complicate matters slightly, the track carrying structures have supports at their midpoints in the cradle so that they can pivot a small amount vertically when their ends are free.

To free the track span from the landward bearings, heavy steel chocks are drawn out from under the span ends on the central pier allowing them to drop slightly as they pivot about their mid-point supports in the cradle. Thus the landward ends rise clear of their bearings.

Once clear, the bridge is hauled round by a steel hawser that is powered by a very simple and ancient clutch operated winding gear. It is the skill of the signaller that ensures that the hawser is operated smoothly so ensuring a gentle landing when the bridge is hauled back into position. To the river-user the bridge moves completely silently and remarkably quickly.

No repair manual

These structures, although simple, can pose tricky engineering challenges. There’s no manual on how to replace worn parts. Several generations can pass between major repairs and so there’ll be nobody to pass on knowledge. When the central bearing on Somerleyton swing bridge started to seize it required some very careful, first principals engineering to coax the bridge back into life. There are jockey wheels around the perimeter of the central pier to steady the swing operation. When it was found that some of these were floating above the steel tracking ring this too indicated that all was not well with the bearing alignment. For such large structures Bob says that they work on extremely fine tolerances.

At the time of writing, Kier with subcontractors Sonic Rail Services were on site at Somerleyton gently nurturing the new bearing during it’s long commissioning period, and also putting in some strategic improvements. There will be ancillary manual plant to haul the bridge back into position if the aging winding gear becomes overloaded. Of course, this isn’t straightforward on a river bank sitting on vast quantities of silt.

Historic seawater pumps

The Oulton Broad swing bridge which is on the seaward side of the Oulton Broad lock is rarely seen by the general run-of-the-mill Broadland holiday makers. If they’ve got that far they’re definitely out of bounds. This is a slightly smaller structure than the others but operates on similar principles. In October it is scheduled to have its historic seawater hydraulic pumps and its equally ancient winding gear replaced by modern equivalents. This follows a very successful Civil’s refurbishment a couple of years ago.

Whole life management strategy

In the winter months the bridges at Somerleyton and Reedham are operated fairly infrequently. Only truly hardy sailors venture on the Southern rivers at this time of year. But a new holiday season has just started and they will be left open to river traffic, only closing just before a train is due. By the end of this financial year, Network Rail will have finished all essential planned works. In parallel though, they will be carrying out a review to decide on the whole life management strategy for Reedham and Somerleyton. But for now these extraordinary structures will continue to open and close silently over the tidal Broadland waters whatever the weather.

London’s railways

There’s a lot going on in London’s railways at the moment. Network Rail is rebuilding several major stations, Thameslink is well underway, Crossrail is starting, and transport plans to support the 2012 Olympics are nearing completion. It was therefore no surprise that around 200 railway executives from a variety of organisations gathered in the Capital at the end of June for London Rail 2011.

A conference organised by the New Civil Engineer, it took place in the interesting surroundings of the International Coffee Organisation Conference Centre just off Oxford Street. A small display by companies such as Comply Serve, Topcon, Siemens and CH2M Hill greeted delegates on their arrival, and representatives were on hand to discuss their offerings.

The conference programme included several topics that have been covered in detail in the rail engineer before, including new EVO trains for the tube, the McNulty Report and Crossrail. However, there were three presentations made in the morning that gave some real insight into the long-term plans of both TfL and Network Rail.

London Transport

The day’s proceedings commenced with a keynote address from Mike Brown, Managing Director of both London Underground and London Rail. Mike started by looking forward to 2031. Current expectations are that there will be 1.3 million more residents in the greater London area than there are today, with 750,000 more jobs resulting in 40-50% more daily rail journeys.

This of course will put a great load on London Transport, so Mike then ran through the changes that were being made to accommodate all that extra travel. These include the new signalling system being installed on the Jubilee line, with the Northern Line next on the list. The new Bombardier-built stock on the Victoria Line has now completely replaced the original. Stations are being improved to make the throughput of higher passenger numbers easier. The sub-surface lines upgrade is underway, with more new trains from Bombardier and new signalling incorporating automatic operation which gives better service through all the flat junctions.

On the Overground, the North London Line, which had been “dilapidated with poor services”, has been upgraded with new trains and will form part of a new outer orbital route which will soon be completed as far as Charing Cross.

There will be extra trams for the Croydon system, and the DLR now has three-car compatibility throughout the line and will shortly be extended to Stratford.


Stratford has been greatly expanded. Tottenham Court Road is already very congested and major works are under way. Bond Street will soon be “unusable” and too congested so capacity needs to be improved there. The Paddington interchange with Crossrail is being built. Victoria has a bottleneck in the interchange between the mainline station and the Victoria Line and that’s being addressed. Bank-Monument is “just not fit for purpose” as it can’t cope with the numbers using it – a major upgrade is planned.

New technology is coming, including wave-and-pay ticketing and new deep tube trains. The long-term intention is that there will be only two types of train, one large one for the sub-surface lines and one small one for the deep tube.

On top of all this, London Underground staff are constantly busy with all the work needed just to keep the system running, such as replacing track, maintaining trains and rebuilding escalators. As a result reliability on all lines is increasing, journey times are coming down but demand keeps going up.

The gap in the jigsaw

However, what Mike called “the gap in the jigsaw” is the relationship with main line rail. London Underground has reached out and got involved with main line rail by establishing London Overground. Now, main line rail needs to “step up”. Interestingly, there are far more rail trips per person per year inside London than outside. However, government expenditure on rail is higher outside London than inside. New and longer trains are coming, but not enough.

Mike believes that devolution of the railways gives the chance for more services to be under the control of the Mayor. This will lead to better use of facilities, better relationships with staff, better ticketing systems, including a wider use of Oyster, and a better return on investment on railways in London. An investment of £220 million will have a benefit:cost ratio of 4:1, which is “excellent”.

Mike finished by stressing that more investment in National Rail in London is needed, as is devolution. Interesting stuff indeed!

More detail

Geoff Hobbs, Head of Rail Planning for Transport for London, picked up where Mike Brown left off by speaking in more detail about franchising and devolution. “One size doesn’t fit all” was his comment about franchises, and he called negotiations involving the ten TOCs that run into London “interesting”. In fact “herding squirrels” was the analogy he used. He firmly believes that the franchising budget should be devolved to London.

TfL estimate that £300 million can be saved by devolution from the introduction of gross cost contracts. There will be a cost associated with this, estimated to be £120 million plus £40 million of administration costs, but that is still a net saving to the industry, and the taxpayer, of £160 million!

To do this, there is a five-point plan.

1. The Mayor (or regional authority if appropriate) is allocated a rail budget for inner suburban passenger services

2. As franchises come up for renewal, inner suburban services should be specified to Overground standard with the same performance indicators

3. The Mayor could also be co-signatory to franchises where it is not possible to efficiently separate suburban from longer distance services

4. At least regulated London fares would be set by the Mayor

5. …and with the above, inner suburban services could be branded ‘London Overground’.


Geoff stressed that users outside London, and freight operators, would not lose out. He concluded with a few simple statements that made TfL’s stance very clear. London depends on rail, and rail travel in London is pretty cost effective. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for future franchises; the TfL approach improves cost efficiency. It is vitally important to continue to invest, and TfL has delivered and can play a major role.

Network Rail

Following a short break, and a presentation by conference sponsor Comply Serve in which CEO Chris Rolison outlined the company’s products and offerings, it was back for a session with Network Rail.

Charles Robarts, Director of Planning and Regulation, welcomed the government’s continued commitment to investment in the railways as it reflects the desire of both passengers and freight operators to increase their use of the railway. However, he acknowledged that whole industry costs are too high.

Charles asked two questions of his audience. Are all players willing to work together? And are everyone’s targets and aspirations in line?

Network Rail is already responding to these challenges by devolving power and decision making, looking to negotiate commercial “alliancing” agreements with train operators, introducing a new way of working with suppliers, and introducing external benchmarking and competition. Charles stressed that reform mustn’t compromise the existing commitments to efficiency savings – 21% in CP4 on top of the 27% achieved during CP3. However, reform is needed across the network, particularly in improving the “co-operation deficit” between Network Rail and train operators.

Devolution, which will be complete by March 2012, will result in Network Rail getting closer to customers. Responsiveness will increase while reducing industry costs. Charles hoped that it would enable them to offer a seamless service at routes level, while support from the centre will maintain the benefits of being part of a national organisation. The network still needs to operate as a network, as many passenger as well as freight operators run across several routes.

Competitive tendering

One problem that Network Rail faces is knowing how competitive its own delivery units are. Cost savings can be judged, but how cost-effective are they in the wider scheme of things? This can be discovered by requiring projects teams to compete for work. By operating in a competitive environment they will be able to establish a true benchmark.

So Network Rail will compete for a few large contracts against the industry’s leading contractors – to see how competitive they can be.

That should throw up some interesting results!

Step into the future of station design

Step into the future

The German Gymnasium, situated next to the building site that is Kings Cross Station, was the ideal and very apt location for the second Future of Station Design (FoSD) conference.

Sponsored this year by Atos Origin and organised as always by Murray Media, it ran under the subtitle A further step into the future. Host Maggie Philbin and Chris Green, chairman of the FoSD steering committee, welcomed delegates and looked forward to the day’s events.

Tony Lacy from Atos Origin made the day’s first speech on technology that enables a ‘better passenger experience in the station of the future’.

His thrust was that the intelligent use of information technology improves operational efficiency, revenue generation and passenger satisfaction.

After reviewing the current use of technology in rail travel, highlighting such features as gate lines and Oyster, he looked forwards to contactless ticketing and other applications using smartphone technology.

Tony made the point that; “More children aged between two and five can use a smartphone (19%) than can tie their own shoelaces (9%)”.

While railway passengers tend to be older than that, it won’t be long before innovative web and mobile solutions can deliver smart ticketing and real-time train information.

The first of the day’s workshop sessions followed. Chaired by Eric Holland of UKTI, it considered ‘continental connections’.

Eric and his panel – Chris Cox, International Operations Manager for Codra and Gavin McMurray, Sales & Marketing Director of Merson Signs – looked at their experiences in Europe and joined with delegates in discussing what could be learned from ‘over there’.

Anthony Smith of Passenger Focus asked the question “What do passengers want at stations?”

Looking at recent satisfaction surveys, the answer seems to be accurate real-time train information (54%), staff (53%) and toilets (45%). No great surprises there. But it was interesting to discover how results varied from station to station, reflecting local issues.

When asked what would be needed to give their station a better overall score, passengers at Luton replied ‘Better general appearance/decor (67%)’; at Barking there were many more answers but the top one was ‘Improved safety and security (27%)’ whilst at Clapham Junction the leading response was ‘Address platform access and congestion on the station (28%)’. Anthony made the point that both global and local surveys have their benefits.

All things retail

Gavin McKechnie, Head of Retail for Network Rail, was first on after lunch with ‘Retail in Network Rail-managed stations’. There are 18 of these with over half-a-million square feet of retail space between them.

Over 1 billion passengers pass through every year but fewer than 5% use the shops and restaurants. To improve this performance, Gavin outlined how Network Rail plans to enhance the overall customer experience by providing an excellent environment with outstanding food and drink offers, as well as ‘leading edge retail’.

This will create a reason to dwell and make the stations destinations in themselves, as has already happened at St Pancras.

The aim is to attract both top brands and new up-and-coming names to create an eclectic mix that will appeal to their wide range of customer profiles and, at the same time, create a ‘sense of place’ by incorporating local products and/or brands to capture the spirit of the market thereabouts.

Innovative use of architecture and art will help support this while avoiding the trap of having homogeneous stations.

An absorbing workshop on retail followed. Chaired by Elaine Stewart of Atos Origin, the panel included Gavin McKechnie, Ben Whitaker, CEO of Masabi, Stephen Ames, Commercial Director of Travel Point Trading, Tony Keating, CEO of SSP, and Neil Grice of Grice Collins Long.

With much experience of retailing in stations as well as motorway service areas, discussions revolved around both the type of retailing that is suitable for stations and the commercial contracts that should apply, particularly turnover-based rents.

The passenger experience

Julian Maynard, Principal Designer, Crossrail Architectural Components, gave a stirring presentation on ‘the passenger experience’.

He looked at the different types of passengers who use the network, from season ticket holders who travel every day to tourists who may even be new to our language and customs; not forgetting families with small children and the disabled or sight-impaired.

Stations need to provide a straightforward way for all these passenger types to catch a train and they need to do it in pleasant and comfortable surroundings.

Julian estimated that “by 2015, 1 in 8 mobile users worldwide will either buy transport or entertainment tickets on their mobile or will have them delivered to their phones”.

He finished by looking at proposed designs for Crossrail stations and how they will improve the travelling experience for millions of passengers a year.

The last workshop of the day, on station design, was hosted by Julian. His panel included Hiro Aso, Director of Transport and Infrastructure for John McAslan + Partners, David Watts, Managing Director of CCD Design & Ergonomics, and David Hunter, Regional Director of Atkins.

The panel discussed the challenges facing architects and designers in creating the stations of the future and how advancements in construction techniques can assist them. Modular stations formed part of the discussion, as did separating passenger ‘holding areas’ from the platforms themselves.

Staying with the theme of ticketing and ticketless systems, Shashi Verma, Director of Fares and Ticketing for TfL, gave the audience a guided tour through the history of ticket offices and automatic ticketing machines.

From the early days of manned ticket offices, through the introduction of the first coin-operated machines and onto the new Crossrail stations which will be completely unmanned, it was a fascinating journey and very well presented.

Best in show

During the breaks between speeches and workshops, there was plenty of time for delegates to look around the exhibition.

Merson Signs had a variety of wayfinding solutions to see. Two machines from AMT Coffee kept everyone topped up with caffeine while Genwork showed off its novel cycle lockers that can easily be installed at any station. Fortunately, no delegates managed to get themselves locked up although a few were seen to try!

Atos Origin was showing its intelligent software systems in conjunction with customer Red Spotted Hanky; they also had a major display on the ground floor. Software systems specialists Codra were there too with a display as were UKTI and CCD Design & Ergonomics.

At the end of the day it was time for the FoSD Awards, sponsored by Merson Signs. Hosted once again by Maggie Philbin who had been keeping delegates informed of her FoSD Twitter campaign all day, awards were made to companies and individuals who had excelled in innovation.

The award for ‘Innovation in Design’ went to Jonathan Hodges of Jason Bruges Studios. For ‘Innovation in Engineering’, the award was presented by the rail engineer to Mervyn George of AATi, who make all the non-slip metal edges for steps on London Underground and elsewhere.

Neil Monnery of WH Smith won the award for ‘Innovation in Station Retail’, Red Spotted Hanky were ‘Best In Conference’, and the overall ‘Outstanding Achievement Award in Station Design and Construction’ was presented to a delighted Hiro Aso of John McAslan + Partners.

At the end of the day, delegates could relax at a short drinks reception. They were very up-beat about the programme.

“An excellent opportunity to meet large number of people, sharing ideas and listening to inspirational speakers” was the opinion of Lorraine Organ from Chiltern Railways.

Craig Tucker of TfL found the day to be “An extremely valuable opportunity to analyse a better infrastructure” while John Russell from Royal Haskoning praised the “Excellent range of speakers and topics at an extremely well organised and delivered event.”

Look out for FoSD3 next year.

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