For most of us, the Christmas and New Year period is a chance to switch off from the regular routine, indulge in too much food and drink, and make a daily decision on whether to get dressed into anything more than our pyjamas.
But while we’re all making the most of our creature comforts, Network Rail is using the time wisely, taking on extensive and challenging works that will keep the country moving in the years ahead. With decreased demand for rail travel, and the closure of the network on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, substantial work can go ahead with minimal disruption for passengers.
In the closing days of 2022, Network Rail and the rail supply chain successfully delivered a considerable bank of works made more complex by the resourcing, planning, and logistical challenges imposed by industrial action. The majority of high value works went ahead successfully, thanks to significant re-planning in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Of the original £119.7 million work bank, approximately 90% was delivered, with 1,589 possessions nationwide.
Though there is not the space in this issue to comment on all the completed works, hopefully, you’ll get a taste of the scale of the programme over the next few pages.
Thirteen programmes of work took place across the Eastern Region, with highlights including track remodelling at York North Junction. Work also took place to advance the multi-billion-pound Transpennine Route Upgrade project.
York North Jn S&C Renewal – This work renewed life-expired junction trackwork at the north end of York Station, which allows access to platforms 4, 5, and 8 to 11. This included the renewal of all associated signalling and points heating equipment. Although all renewal works were completed, signalling commissioning delays resulted in possession handback overrunning by 58 minutes. Other issues included the failure of a lifting strap during a Kirow K1200 panel lift.
Crossrail Anglia – The Crossrail Anglia Project has been delivering the new Autotransformer (AT) +25kV traction power system to feed the Anglia Mainline from the new Pudding Mill Lane Feeder Site. Once in service, the AT system will provide sufficient power for Crossrail, Greater Anglia, and freight timetables, as well as improving system reliability and ready the May 2023 Elizabeth line timetable change. During the Christmas possession, work between Pudding Mill Lane and Shenfield included OHLE, traction power upgrades, line of route and station works. There was one minor incident where a parked welfare van was struck with a refuelling bowser, causing no injuries.
BGK 1337 Three Colts Lane – This project replaced the life-expired bridge structure spanning Three Colts Lane. This involves removing permanent way (P way), demolishing the bridge, partial demolition of the masonry abutments, building the new bridge in situ, waterproofing, P way reinstatement and OLE adjustments. All this work was completed within a 10-day blockade.
Transpennine Route Upgrade
TRU Holbeck New Connection S&C – The Holbeck new connection is a key infrastructure intervention to provide engineering access for the wider TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU) East projects. This upgrades Holbeck Depot Junction, Leeds and provides a depot arrival road headshunt to eliminate Midland Main Line turnback movements to increase mainline operational capacity. Works completed over the Christmas period included the installation of a new scissors crossover as well as the commissioning of new signalling and track assets at Holbeck; nine lock out devices at Leeds station; and this crossover’s new points heating and junction lighting. No issues or incidents were reported.
TRU Morley Station PLTR – Railway improvement work between Dewsbury and Leeds City stations includes: track upgrades and remodelling; installing a new signalling system; electrification work; and station improvements. A new, accessible station is also being provided at Morley. These works will allow the station to be relocated approximately 75 metres to the north-east later this year. Over the Christmas period, the Up Huddersfield tracks towards Dewsbury were replaced; four under track crossings installed; and track drainage with a temporary drainage pumping system installed.
North West & Central Region
There were 12 programmes of work in the North West & Central Region. These included the re-signalling and recontrol of the former Birmingham New Street Power Signal Box (PSB) into West Midlands Signalling Centre (WMSC), and the renewal of bridge LEC1/9E at Camden, where the West Coast Main Line crosses the Regents Canal north of Euston.
Birmingham New Street Area Re-signalling Phase 7 – Around 400 people worked around the clock during this 80-hour possession which followed many stage works including the previous two Christmas blocks and a platform closures programme. A central control monitored progress and provided four-hourly reports. This work renewed life-expired signalling systems and trackside equipment in the Birmingham New Street PSB control area (New Street Station) and transferred control to the New Street Westcad Workstation at WMSC. Signaller observations raised during the work were checked against the design. On Platform 10 an RA and red signal displayed at the same time once a train had been dispatched which required a subsequent data change.
Bridge LEC1/9E Regents Canal – This work was a renewal of the life-expired Bridge LEC1/9E over the Regents Canal in Camden. This required: the removal of track and the old bridge; E&P and S&T disconnections; installing the new bridge; track reinstatement; E&P and S&T reconnections, including OLE adjustments, bonding and points heating. Due to various issues the worksite was handed back 46 hours later than originally planned which resulted in train delays of 1,985 minutes.
Harlesden Plain Line Track Renewal – 322 yards of track were removed and replaced with new rail, sleepers, ballast, and formation on the Up Fast line. Due to industrial strike action, the central route was closed requiring significant revisions to the original haulage plan. Despite this, the work was completed in full.
Carol Green / Berkswell OLE HS2 – Lowering of 400 metres overhead lie equipment (OLE) at this location is required for the construction of a new HS2 Overbridge. This was done within a 53-hour planned possession. Works completed included: The installation of four Tensorex units; the removal of six OLE masts and two twin track OLE portals. During the work, a historic spliced joint failed which bought down catenary wire throughout the section. However, after repairs all works were completed safely and possession was handed back two hours ahead of time.
Willesden Cathedral Substation Demolition – This substation is one of 10 substations built around 1916 for the London & North Western Railway electrification. Its controlled demolition was done in a designed sequence. In this way the existing 750v DC sub 7 25kv substations, which were in close proximity, could remain operational during the demolition. Works completed included: soft strip and removal of hazardous material; OLE removal and enabling works; removal of third rail; track protection and demolition plant mat; full demolition and clearance of arisings; reinstatement of OLE and third rail.
Four programmes of work were completed in the Southern region. Of note was the renewal of 16 S&C units at Lewisham between 24 December and 3 January.
Lewisham Junction – Lewisham Junction is located on the four track DC electrified section of track immediately west of Lewisham Station. The work renewed the junction which consists of 16 double scissors covering the junction’s four lines. The work included: complete renewal of S&C layout and associated fixed diamonds; the renewal of 10 track isolator switches and 1,000 metres of conductor rail; 500 metres of platform cope adjustments; 1200 square metres of platform resurfacing; and 200 metres of ballast retention scheme. The site was fully stressed and welded tamped and handed back on time.
Victoria Re-signalling – In a blockade commencing at 15:00 24 December, running until 03:00 03 January, this project resignalled the Clapham and Balham interlocking areas, and relocked the Victoria Eastern, Victoria Central Throat, and West London Lines. All control was moved from Victoria Area Signalling Centre to Three Bridge Regional Operating Centre. This renewed life expired assets in the area which was last resignalled in 1980. Issues included over-recovery of FDM cable in relay room causing multiple track circuit failures. A temporary lighting column was also blown into open lines.
Gatwick Station – On 27 December, platform 5 and platform 6 at Gatwick Airport were signed back into operational use with the final install, test, and commission of its new track layout which improves the operationally-constrained track layout at each end of the station and limited northbound fast line platform capacity. There were no safety or environmental issues and possession was handed back on time. However, the project enacted an agreed contingency plan to retain the fast lines signalling disconnection to address faults identified in testing.
Clapham Ladder S&C Abandonment – This work renewed seven-hundred-and-fifty metres of track and commissioned points heating on the new S&C layout. Alongside the renewal, signal gantrys and equipment were recovered for the VIC3 scheme. The site was tamped and handed back at line speed on time.
Wales and Western Region
Ten programmes of work took place in the Wales and Western Region, including the renewal of five S&C units at Stoke Gifford West Junction in the Bristol area.
Stoke Gifford Up and Stoke Gifford West S&C core – This project involved plain line renewal on the Stoke Gifford Up Tunnel Line between Parkway and Patchway, and the renewal of five units of life-expired S&C at Stoke Gifford West. Civils works were also completed on platform 3 to improve gauging and stepping distances for passengers. The work had to be re-planned at short notice many times due to industrial action which led to the Stoke Gifford Up Plain Line renewal being cancelled. This work was done in bad weather conditions with continuous rain throughout the works.
Dawlish Lift Shaft/Footbridge Piling Works – Preparatory work for the installation of a new footbridge with step-free access north of the Dawlish station included: piling for the foundations of the lift shaft/bridge. Effective communications between the comms team and residents in local flats developed relationships, enabling bespoke arrangements for disabled residents affected by works.
Parsons Tunnel North Portal – To improve railway resilience from cliff hazards, this work included cliff remediation and rockfall shelter construction (109 metres) and associated preparatory work. The construction works for a rockfall shelter on the Dawlish side of Parsons Tunnel included piling and superstructure works.
In Scotland, preparatory work for the Carstairs junction remodelling work continued over Christmas. £100 million has already been spent on signalling and OLE work for this major work which requires 10km of track renewals and 27 new switches in a blockade which starts in March. With very limited access during the week, full advantage was taken of the Christmas and New Year period to undertake preparatory works.
Elsewhere there were track renewals at Slateford in Edinburgh and at Penmansheil which required the East Coast Main Line to be shut there from 23:00 on 24 December to 05:00 on 27 December.
Drainage work was also undertaken at Eglinton Street in Glasgow between 23:10 on 24 December and 09:00 on the 26 December.
In addition planned work was done to re-open two lines that had been blocked due to severe weather. On 19 December the line to Oban and the trunk road below it was blocked when around 200 tonnes of debris slipped 80 metres down Ben Cruachan’s slopes. The line was re-opened on 27 December.
Following heavy rainfall on 30 December which saw the River Clyde reach its highest recorded level, a 40-metre section of an embankment on the West Coast Main Line south of Carstairs was partially washed away. The line was re-opened on 6 January after the embankment was rebuilt with over 300 tonnes of new stone and tracks re-laid.
Performance and handbacks
Of the planned 1,589 network-wide possessions that took place between 24 December and 3 January, only 12 service-impacting overrun incidents occurred, five of which were linked to delivery of a major ‘red ranked’ scheme. Three possession overruns accounted for 90% of the total delay minutes. These were:
- 3,631 minutes at Paddington on the morning of 27 December due to problems moving tampers out of a possession after a maintenance tamp in the Paddington area.
- 1,985 minutes at Camden during the 29-30 December following agreed possession extensions associated with delivering the replacement of bridge LEC1/9E.
- 1,043 minutes at Gatwick following issues encountered with 1713 points and a number of signals, which were rectified later in the day post handback.
The 12 overrun incidents incurred a total of 7,357 minutes delay. As the total number of possessions was 1,985, this represents a successful possession hand back rate of 99.2%.
Over the Christmas/New Year period, there were two reported accidents. Of the two, one was classified as a minor injury with no lost time, and one was classed as being RIDDOR reportable.
The RIDDOR reportable accident took place in the early hours of Christmas Day near Maidenhead, where an operative changing an RRV attachment moved out of the way of the machine and fell into the four foot, dislocating their arm. The injured person was attended to by an ambulance crew and was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital.
The second accident took place at the Birmingham New Street Re-signalling site, where an operative received a minor electric shock (24 V) during project activities. No treatment was required.
Additionally, the period saw six reported general incidents, five reported operational close calls, but no reported environmental incidents.
A big thank you goes to everyone involved in these works for devoting your time and energy to ensuring the network runs smoothly in 2023. Your dedication and hard work makes the whole industry proud.