HomeRail NewsStraightening out Market Harborough

Straightening out Market Harborough

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On a route which has had mixed fortunes in terms of investment and speed improvements, the works at Market Harborough – the design and construction of which is led by Amey – are part of a major boost for the Midland main line.

A significant stopping point on the route from London to Nottingham and Sheffield, the original Market Harborough station was opened on 1 May 1850 by the London and North Western Railway (LNWR), situated on its line between Stamford and Rugby and thence on to London Euston.

The Midland Railway shared the station from 1857 when it built its extension from Leicester to Bedford and, in 1859, the branch line to Northampton was opened. Thus, what is now a main-line through station was once quite a busy junction hub.

The original station building was replaced in 1884 with the current attractive structure, designed by LNWR architect John Livock and built by Parnell and Sons of Rugby.

The services on the original LNWR line were drastically reduced and then withdrawn in the 1960s while the line to Northampton closed in 1981, at which point the station ceased to be a junction. The platform canopies and buildings were replaced with modern designs in the 1960s, although the original station building was retained and then was restored in 1981.

Currently, Market Harborough is served by fast and semi-fast East Midlands Trains services and, with a journey time of around an hour, the frequency of trains is effectively appropriate for commuting to London, necessitating ample car parking facilities. The strategic importance of the station is reinforced by good bus services across the county.

However, the station’s history as a junction station, and one originally built for a different route than the current Midland main line, has resulted in a station located on a large curve and with a 60 mph speed restriction.

Market Harbourough station.

All about line speed

The Midland main line from St Pancras to Sheffield, Derby and Nottingham has not received any significant investment for some considerable time. The southern part of the line to Bedford was electrified in the early 1980s and British Rail Inter City made a decision to deploy a portion of its Class 43 HST fleet to the line, also in the 1980s.

Signalling was modernised at the southern end for the electrification while the northern end had been upgraded in the late 1960s. Mechanical signalling remained, covering the gap between Bedford and Trent Junction, until the 1980s, when Leicester Power Signal Box was completed, at which time the opportunity was taken to upgrade the overall linespeed to 110mph.

For such a strategically important route, the end-to-end speed remained low until proposals for electrification and line speed improvement came to the fore in more recent years. A major plank of these proposals was to remove the route’s long-term speed restrictions, that at Market Harborough being one of the most significant.

While the key aim of the project is to increase the line speed to 85mph through the Market Harborough station area, the scope of this ‘Line Speed and Station Improvement’ project also provides customers with many other improvements.

Those gains include a new, replacement car park on the east (Up) side of the station, opened in June 2018 with 300 spaces but being enlarged to 500 later in 2019. Coupled to that will be an improvement in accessibility, giving step-free access from a new entrance and, significantly, a footbridge with lifts. Previous inter-platform access had been by subway or barrow crossing, the latter being unacceptable in the implementation of new higher line speeds.

A further gain to travellers is the reduction in stepping distance between platform and train and, at last, platforms, which can actually accommodate the length of all calling trains.

The new track formation allows for crossovers just north of the platforms to facilitate flexible working when necessitated by traffic constraints.

The programme

As much of the new alignment was to be to the west (Down) side of the current Platform 1, much of the work could take place without disturbing the railway and disrupting travel.

However, between Tuesday 28 May and Sunday 02 June (inclusive), the railway between Kettering and Leicester was closed whilst 3.8km of newly aligned track was connected into the main line.

North-south passengers were diverted via the Oakham-Kettering line, enjoying a picturesque run over the Welland viaduct at Harringworth but adding about half an hour to their journey. Market Harborough passengers could use the bus-replacement services from Kettering and Leicester.

Passengers to and from London enjoyed picturesque views from the Welland viaduct between Harringworth, Northamptonshire, and Seaton, Rutland.

Progress to April

When Rail Engineer visited the site in April 2019, considerable progress was visible. Trains were still using the old platforms, but the new works were advancing at a good pace back from the current railway alignment.

Probably the most visible progress to be seen from a passing train was the disappearance of the goods shed, demolished early on to make way for the new car park, and the clearance of much vegetation on site. The former engineers’ sidings had also been shortened and then removed, replacements being available further down the route at Knighton, towards Leicester. The old Down-side car park had become the alignment for the new platforms and associated track.

As well as a significant portion of the new platforms, which were being built off-line, permanent way works south of the station had been cleared, new crossovers made up of standard components had been put in place north of the station and, of course, the barrow crossing had been removed. Significant volumes of signalling and telecommunications work had been undertaken, as had civil engineering work including strengthening of the bridges on Scotland Road, Kettering Road and Rockingham Road.

The new footbridge was in place, and could be used as a viewing platform, with both lift shafts and stairs erected. However, at the time, there was no railway underneath it!

New alignment and station arrangement compared to the original layout.


There was still work to do before the May/June blockade. This included further platform work together with completion of track installation and track drainage. The project teams needed to complete the footbridge installation, install the lifts, and finalise some strengthening work on Great Bowden Road bridge.

The new alignment was tied into the existing infrastructure during the blockade. This will then allow the build of the remainder of the new Up platform and the demolition of the old Platform 2 and its associated infrastructure post commissioning. The resumption of train services on 3rd June saw the new platforms brought into use and trains using the newly laid track on its straightened alignment.

Finally, the project will be able to complete the last 200 spaces of the new car park on the route of the old up London line, bring the underpass back into use and fully commission the station with full project completion in December.

Arrangements for the new footbridge giving full cross platform access for persons of reduced mobility.


The original proposals for the Midland main line route improvement envisaged full electrification of the route through to Nottingham and Sheffield. However, due to changes in government priorities, the scheme was de-scoped to include the main line only to Kettering and the branch to Corby. Trains north of the junction will continue under a form of bi-mode operation.

However, power supply considerations in the original full design allowed for the grid intake to be adjacent to Market Harborough and a subsequent decision has been taken to extend the overhead line contact system to Market Harborough station itself.

The station design retains passive provision for a fully electrified route.

Impact on customers

Such major works significantly impact the users of the station as well as other stakeholders, so the team has taken action to minimise that effect. East Midlands Trains has been closely involved with those arrangements and all partners have produced a strategy to achieve the best outcome. Station users will have noticed the temporary closure of the ladies’ and accessible toilets on Platform 1 since early February, although the waiting room has remained open. Those arrangements have been replaced by portable facilities on the station forecourt.

The station underpass will be closed from 28 May until December 2019, but accessibility was maintained for all station users via the new footbridge when the station reopened on 3 June.

The station booking office remained open during the six days of the blockade to assist passengers and the coffee shop continued trading throughout!

The new footbridge spans a building site rather than a railway – 26 April 2019.

Relationships and stakeholders

As with any major project, particularly one in a populated and fast-growing area, a number of stakeholders and organisations were involved. Both Network Rail and East Midlands Trains placed great emphasis on engagement and communications. A dedicated website informed both the local population and travellers of progress, while bi-monthly lineside neighbour letters were sent out to residents living within 200 metres of either side of line for a six mile stretch of route. More localised letters were issued as other potentially disruptive work is done.

Public and stakeholder meetings formed an important part of the communications strategy and these have taken place within the community as well as adjacent to the site.

The active Market Harborough Railway Association has been closely involved in the consultation and has made its views clear for sharing with the project. Site visits have also been arranged with the Local Economic Partnership, the local Member of Parliament and the media (press and trade) before and during closure.

Environmental considerations have quite rightly taken a high profile with the project – there are several different initiatives in hand contributing to the integration of the works with the surrounding locations.

Firstly, immediately north of the station, an area of land is it to be used for habitat enhancement and an ecology area will be produced. The remaining soil left on the site will have dips, piles and other textural features laid into it to create various habitat types. The existing seed bank from the area will be reinstated and reptile refuges are to be created. Wildflower and other bee-attracting features will be installed to enhance the area and create a haven for many species. Network Rail has asked locals to get involved with the scheme, including local schools and community groups.

Litter assumes a very high profile around the railway and can become a focus for discontent around major works sites. The project has therefore provided eight members of staff to engage with a local community group to help clean the adjacent area.

The Infrastructure Projects East Midlands framework has an ongoing commitment to sustainable communities, so the project team contacted the Market Harborough Environment Group (MHEG), a voluntary organisation which works to improve the local environment by:

  • Organising individual and group litter picking;
  • Spreading information about recycling, through stands at local events;
  • Encouraging and providing re-useable bags to their local community;
  • Living talks and information to individuals, groups and organisations in the area.

MHEG was keen to set up an event in collaboration with the project team in order to benefit the local area. As a result, the Market Harborough project team met with six members of MHEG outside the access to the old station carpark on 7 September 2018. Once on site, the leader of MHEG briefed the team on the task and safety information and the two routes which had been chosen to receive the clean-up:
1. Out on Rockingham Road from the station towards Gores Lane and Kettering Road;
2. Along the river in to Symington’s Recreation Ground and back along St. Mary’s Road.

The teams were split so there was a mix of project and MHEG members on both routes, the local knowledge of the MHEG was invaluable to the event and everyone got to know each other during the afternoon. After a couple of hours work both teams met back at the station with a collection of 10 full bags of rubbish. This was then stored at the access point and the MHEG team had this picked up the same day by a local council contact who is familiar with their work.


One unavoidable biproduct of the devegetation work that took place was a considerable quantity of wood chippings which, due to limited space on site, required removal. However, traditional methods, such as waste disposal, would have proved costly economically and environmentally.

Virgin timbers such as these are not classed as waste, according to the Environment Agency’s briefing issued in September 2014, so they are not subject to waste regulatory controls and can be used for gardens/pathways, composting and to create or maintain habitats. The Market Harborough team decided to donate the wood chippings to local community groups. So, on 25 September 2018, three members of the team spent the day delivering wood chippings to various locations around the project site.

Great Bowden Pre-School had recently been discussing with the church to make an outdoor/nature area in the playground at the back of the church hall. It received a rubble bag full of chippings for the base of this project.

The Market Harborough and Bowden’s Charity runs several projects throughout the area and uses wood chippings in the pathways of its allotments. Two pick-up loads were delivered to the Northampton Road allotments.

Waterloo Community Gardens was set up by Waterloo Cottage Farm in Great Oxendon village as part of Sustainable Harborough, giving local people the chance to enjoy horticulture. The gardens required one pick-up load of chippings to use for paths and bedding.

Lubenham Primary School had recently been quoted over £1,000 to refill the wood chippings in the playground, so the project’s donation couldn’t have come at a better time. One pick-up load was delivered immediately, and a further five deliveries have been made to replace the lost chippings.

Farndon Fields Primary School is undergoing significant building works. The school required one pick-up load for landscaping purposes for the finished build.

Further chippings were delivered around the area and the remaining chippings were taken to a local stable with which the project had prior connections.

The aim of having all chippings removed from site for reuse purposes was successful and saved the project approximately £5,000 and 290kg carbon dioxide, based on the 16-17 grab wagons that would have been needed to remove all the material off site. It also saved the various community groups and schools a substantial amount of money.

The new car park is complete but passengers are still parking in the old one. The curve of the track can be clearly seen – this will be resited through the old car park once that has been closed.

Successful team

The success of this project is largely due to the close cooperation between the major players – Network Rail and East Midlands Trains, principal contractor Amey, and a highly effective team of subcontractors including AMCO Rail, Arup, Atkins, Galliford Try, Murphy, Siemens and SPL Powerlines UK.

Amey fielded a team which really benefitted from the ‘early contractor involvement’ philosophy all the way through from the ‘approval in principle’ stage. Amey ensured that the original team was able to develop and work consistently with the project, even during the changes in industry contracting structure that have occurred.

Senior engineer Bruce Adamson, Amey’s engineering manager, paid tribute to the team which has seen the works through and taken maximum advantage of that early contractor involvement. He commented that the very welcome process led to “No surprises”, even though the scheme involved Amey taking over from a previous main contractor (Carillion), a challenge that was met by strategic staff moving through to join the Amey team.

Blockade scope – the statistics

Signalling installation

  • 14 location suites
  • 16 signals and associated four-foot equipment
  • 28 track circuits
  • 14 lineside signs
  • 1 time-division multiplex link to East Midlands control centre
  • 1 interlocking

Signalling removal/recovery

  • 32 track circuits
  • 14 AWS units
  • 12 signals
  • 13 sets of TPWS
  • 12 treadles
  • 16 signs
  • 40,000 metres of lineside cables
  • 5 equipment cases

Permanent way

  • Switch and crossing tamping – 4 point-ends
  • New line construction – 1,632 metres
  • Construction tamping – 2,979 metres
  • Design tamping – 3,258 metres

Bulk Volumes

  • Spoil
    • Up Fast 3,612 tonnes
    • Down Fast 2,460 tonnes
    • Drainage 100 tonnes
    • Total 6,172 tonnes
  • Sand – 250 tonnes
  • Type 1 aggregate – 380 tonnes
  • Bottom/top ballast – 5,204 tonnes
  • Shingle – drainage – 50 tonnes
  • Platform demolition – 906 cubic metres
  • Platform 2 additional dig and trackbed – 241 cubic metres

Peter Stanton BSc CEng FIMechE FIET FPWI
Peter Stanton BSc CEng FIMechE FIET FPWIhttp://therailengineer.com

Electrification, traction power supplies and distribution networks

Peter Stanton undertook, between 1968 and 1972, a ‘thin sandwich’ degree course at City University, London, sponsored by British Railways Midlands Region and with practical training at Crewe and Willesden.

In 1980, following a spell as Area Maintenance Engineer at King’s Cross, Peter took on the interesting and challenging role of being the Personal Assistant to the British Railways Board Member for Engineering. As such, he was project manager for several major inter-regional inter-functional schemes.

Under Railtrack, Peter became Engineering Manager for Infrastructure Contracts, based in Birmingham, and then Electrification and Plant specialist for the West Coast Route Modernisation under Network Rail.

Since 2007, as an independent consultant, he has worked on the national electrification programme, Dubai Metro Red Line, Network Rail Crossrail, and Great Western Electrification. He sits on the Railway Technical Advisory panel of the IET and the Conference and Seminars Committee of the Railway Division of the IMechE.


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