HomeInfrastructureYuletide activities: A comprehensive overview of Network Rail's Christmas engineering work

Yuletide activities: A comprehensive overview of Network Rail’s Christmas engineering work

Listen to this article

Traditions are important at Christmas. They promote feelings of nostalgia, harking back to earlier, simpler times. There are Christmas trees (a medieval import from the Baltic states), turkeys (introduced to the UK from America in the 16th century), fairy lights (early 20th century), stockings (Scandinavian children would put out their boots filled with carrots for Odin’s horse Sleipnir and, in return, the Norse god would leave them presents), holly (representing the crown of thorns and Christ’s blood on it, from medieval tradition), mistletoe (long associated with vitality and fertility, kissing under the mistletoe became popular in the 18th century), mince pies (the ingredients for mincemeat were brought from the Holy Land by crusaders in the 13th century) and Christmas pudding (formerly plum pudding, from the 17th century).

Some traditions are more recent. The King George VI chase at Kempton Park has been run on Boxing Day since 1937, and several organisations go for a Christmas Swim – again usually on Boxing Day.

Then there is the strange and growing tradition that involves men and women of all ages donning orange garb and congregating at various out-of-the way sites around the country to take part in obscure rituals involving long metal bars. Traditionally, these people are known as the Orange Army (though some modernists now call them Team Orange) and acolytes have to undergo secretive initiation rites – the ‘PTS’ – before they can be admitted.

At Christmas 2017, observers estimated that more than 32,000 people, the equivalent of the entire population of Motherwell, Leatherhead or Glossop, gathered at around 3,000 sites around the nation. An intrepid reporter was promptly despatched to find out what all of these people were doing, and why.

His astonishing finding was that these were ‘Railway Workers’ and they were participating in something called the ‘Christmas Works’. Asked to find out more, his report is reproduced below…

Colwich junction.
Colwich junction.


Network Rail and its suppliers delivered more than £160 million worth of engineering work over the Christmas and New Year period, from the evening of Friday 22 December 2017 until Wednesday 3 January 2018.

Over 1,000 possessions were taken around the country, and in excess of 32,000 people worked on nearly 3,000 sites to deliver major enhancements as well as core renewals and maintenance works across the rail network.

Of these, approximately 40 projects were identified as RED through the Delivering Work Within Possessions (DWWP) standard, meaning that they carried a greater risk of overrun and/or a more significant impact in the event of an overrun. These included work on Thameslink at London Bridge, around central Birmingham as phases four and five of the Birmingham New Street Area Resignalling project were implemented, and for Crossrail on both the Great Western and Great Eastern main lines, as well as a number of significant track and structure renewals across the country.

The eleven-day period was a great success, with significant volumes of work delivered as planned. It wasn’t without its challenges, many stemming from the cold and icy weather conditions, including quantities of snow in some locations.

Overall, 98.6 per cent of possessions were handed back on time. Of the few that didn’t, the most significant event (3,135 delay minutes) was experienced at Edinburgh Waverley on the morning of 27 December where, due to the low temperatures, a number of frozen points unfortunately prevented a right-time handback.

On the down side, there were five RIDDOR-reportable accidents. One of these occurred when contractors working on point heating used an unauthorised access point – an open line was crossed and one member of staff came into contact with the live conductor rail. Another notable but non-RIDDOR accident occurred when the two front wheels of a Mobile Elevated Working Platform (MEWP) derailed whilst in transit on the Down main line at Pangbourne (Western route) and the member of staff working in the basket of the MEWP sustained an injury to his left arm.

Over the festive period, a total of 28 accidents that resulted in injury were reported. Of these, nine resulted in lost time injuries, six of these being slips/trips on slippery or icy surfaces caused by the cold weather and ground conditions.

One road traffic accident with no injuries was reported during the period.

Looking at the various jobs around the country:

Wyre Viaduct.
Wyre Viaduct.

London North Western

Wyre viaduct is a six-span arch viaduct carrying the electrified West Coast main line (WCML) over the River Wyre and Station Lane near Scorton, Lancashire. The bridge is of masonry construction with brick arch barrels, masonry voussoirs and spandrels and masonry upstands. A concrete over-slab, together with waterproofing, was required to reduce the risk of spandrel wall failure and help prevent water penetration throughout the structure, particularly within Spans 1 to 5.

Once work started, it was discovered that there was an existing over-saddle across the viaduct that was higher than anticipated in certain locations. Despite extensive ground investigations being undertaken, this required scabbling out prior to the installation of new precast concrete L-shaped units, which were stitched together with in-situ concrete and overlaid with a waterproofing system. Finally the track was reinstated, incorporating a lift of 265mm over the viaduct.

A single-span underbridge, which crosses the Trent and Mersey Canal and towpath, carries the twin track electrified WCML between Stafford and Rugeley near Colwich junction. The bridge is constructed of two A-type decks (main edge girders, cross girders and concrete deck), supported by stone wing walls and abutments.

Water had been seeping through cracks in the concrete/steel interface, so a proprietary waterproofing membrane system and associated drainage system, designed for a service life of 25 years, was installed using excavators and road-rail vehicles (RRVs) during a 59-hour disruptive possession. The existing timber ballast retention boards, which prevent ballast falling onto the bearing shelves, were replaced with GRP (glass-reinforced polymer) panelling.

Electrifying 4 1⁄2 miles of track between Barnt Green junction and Bromsgrove station will see an increase of three trains per hour between Bromsgrove and Birmingham, improving capacity and journey times for passengers. During the 54-hour Christmas 2017 blockade, two wire runs were to be completed through Barnt Green station to the existing electrified junction, tested and commissioned, as well as continuing OLE (overhead line electrification) steelwork and conductor installation.

Unfortunately, the wire runs through Barnt Green were cancelled (by the contractor) due to a lack of assurance checks on bonding status in shifts during the lead-up to the blockade.
However, 198 bond connections were made, including the installation of 25 spider plates, and four complete new OLE structures were erected. Signal testing and commissioning was carried out on the affected track circuits.

Two new under-track crossings (UTX) were to be installed in the throat area of Euston station as part of the enabling works for HS2.These would enable a new cable management system to be implemented later in 2018. One four-track crossing was completed as planned. However, only five of the planned six tracks of the other crossing were completed, due to the unexpected discovery of buried objects during the dig, including walls, a clay pipe and remains of concrete gantry bases, which delayed progress.

Primrose Hill tunnel is in a heavily used area of the network. Temporary pumps are currently employed to drain the Fast lines, so 188 metres of new six-foot drainage is being installed, complete with a new pumping system, to direct the flow of water into approximately 200 metres of rising-main drainage, which connects to gravity-led drainage leading to the outfall.

Over the holiday period, 15 metres of cess drainage were installed from the outfall to a UTX chamber. Two new UTX and a reception chamber were constructed, 120 metres of fused rising-main pipe installed, as well as 35 metres of off-track drainage (only installed in possession due to close proximity of OLE) and 45 metres of additional cess drainage.

A punctured tyre on the RRV delayed trench backfilling, which put the scheme to AMBER for approximately 16 hours, and then the RRV accidentally clipped OLE with its boom, which required an emergency repair via Network Rail Maintenance. However, this didn’t affect the final handback of the possession, which was delivered on time.

VolkerRail installed three wire runs, tying into existing OLE at Preston Fylde Junction, as part of phase three of the Preston to Blackpool electrification scheme.

The successful commissioning of BNSAR (Birmingham New Street Area Renewals) Phases 4 and 5, which took place between 23 December and 3 January, is described in a separate article, as is the accompanying track renewal at Soho North junction.

Soho junction.
Soho junction.

Meanwhile, work continued at Liverpool Lime Street, with the works at Christmas forming part of the wider project strategy and supporting the main Stage 5 Commissioning, due to take place in July 2018. The team completed the scrapping out of track from Sidings D and the existing Platform 6, brought into use the new Platform 8 and took out of use existing Platforms 6 and 9 (the existing Platform 8 will return to service as Platform 9).

On the OLE front, new wiring was installed above Platforms 7 and 8 and the OLE relocated from Platform 5 to its new position above sidings D.

One of Network Rail Infrastructure Projects’ Track Renewals teams was at Manchester Piccadilly, replacing plain line in Platforms 13A/B and 14. This would also expose a bridge deck which would have a new waterproof membrane fitted including partial drainage.

Although the bridge deck was completed as planned, and the site handed back on time, the planned track replacement was curtailed by 83 metres, and the depth of dig reduced, due to a series of incidents which included having to call the emergency services to site due to a serious illness (not an accident) and finding various unlisted buried services.

Another track renewal project involved replacing 558 metres of the Up line in Crick tunnel. This involved cutting the existing track into 60-foot panels and removing them, excavating the spoil, installing a geotextile, and then replacing the bottom ballast, sleepers and continuous welded rail (CWR) before adding top ballast, profiling and tamping. The finished work was handed back on time with a 60mph TSR, which would be removed later after a final stress.

Liverpool Lime Street.
Liverpool Lime Street.

Midland main line

The line through Kentish Town includes 290 metres of paved concrete track (PACT), which had deteriorated, affecting infrastructure reliability. The main body of slab removal work (between bridges 17 and 18) took place during a 10-day blockade over Christmas 2017, while the remainder will be completed during a number of disruptive possessions between February and June 2018. Once the slab was removed, ballasted track and four squaring off precast concrete units supported on five 10-metre-long piles was installed.

During the removal of the existing slab, an unexpected mass concrete slab was found, on both Up and Down Fast lines (20 metres long and approximately 40 cm thick). The project also endured a high number of plant failures and a track circuit failure on the Down Fast line, which led to a 49-minute overrun and 343 delay minutes.

Five point-ends were installed at Kettering as part of the wider London to Corby (L2C) project, along with associated plain line.

Initial enabling works for the Derby Remodelling project took place over the holiday period to allow construction to commence on 3 January 2018.

In more detail this included the abandonment and recovery of the Up and Down Goods lines, the realignment of the Pilot line to clear the footprint of the new Platform 6 and partial installation of the F&I line, installation of three ends of S&C into Etches Park/Litchurch Lane, recovery of an existing signal gantry at Derby Station North and
installation of a new signal gantry at Derby Station South.

Kentish Town.
Kentish Town.

Great Western

The Christmas work that took place at Paddington and Old Oak Common is reported in detail elsewhere. However, in short, the greatest signalling data change in the history of Network Rail was undertaken, to provide new Crossrail routes to Paddington approaches.

In addition, a great deal of electrification work took place, as the routes onto the Westbound, Eastbound and Turnback A Crossrail tunnels were electrified. Wiring and electrification of the Royal Oak sidings, completion of Crossrail Depot OLE, and the wiring of electrification of Paddington Platform 2 were all completed.

Work on the Bristol Area Signalling Renewals and Enhancements (BASRE) project, which aims to re-lock the signalling equipment in the Bristol control area and re-controlling to new IECC workstations at Thames Valley Signalling Centre (TVSC), continued. This included S&C renewal at Stoke Gifford, running out 36km of new cable using the cable train, changing signalling equipment on Bristol East Gantry, and rehearsing 112 signalling assets in conjunction with Alstom.

At Oxford, work took place on the Up Oxford Relief, Up Main and Up Carriage Sidings to support the completion and commissioning of Phase 1 works planned for July 2018. 500 metres of plain line track were laid, a total of eight panels for two new sets of points installed and 60 welds completed. Piling for three major gantries was also successfully undertaken during the holiday period, with the Oxford sites being handed back almost three hours early.

As part of the continuing Great Western Electrification programme, snagging works were completed between Maidenhead and Kennet Bridge, as well as at Scours Lane, Didcot. Registration work (Platforms 1 and 2) and panning (Up Main loop) were completed at Reading station, with more wiring, registration and switching on the Reading triangle. 95 masts and 47 booms were also completed along the route.

IP Track replaced three point ends at Southall West and two at Southall East. Overhead line adjustments were undertaken, new points heating installed and all associated signalling works completed and tested, including split detection upgrades in association with Crossrail West.

Old Oak Common.
Old Oak Common.


An immense amount of work was carried out at the eastern end of the Crossrail overground route, an area which is already supporting TfL Rail from Liverpool Street and will see Elizabeth Line services from Paddington from December 2018.

At Pudding Mill Lane, track work included the installation of 180 metres of drainage installation, along with hollow bearers, points heating equipment, a signal foundation and walkways.

Four platform end ramps were constructed at Shenfield, 81 metres of platforms reconstructed at Gidea Park, and 4,850 metres of communications cables installed at Harold Wood.

A fixed diamond and 13 point ends were installed at Gidea Park sidings as part of the remodelling there, along with improved CCTV and walkways.

To increase the general reliability of the signalling system, a further 8,500 metres of cable, and 2,909 metres of trough route, went in along the Crossrail Anglia route.

The Stage B commissioning of Gidea Park sidings includes installation works at Pudding Mill Lane and Ilford. A 5,500 metres cable run, four new TPWS gratings and three distribution boxes were added at Pudding Mill Lane while the new points and track circuits at Gidea Park were tested ready for final commissioning.


The remaining 10 OLE wire runs were completed at Shenfield, along with two neutral sections. A new acoustic fence was added, to reduce the impact to lineside neighbours from idling trains.

The ongoing Great Eastern Overhead Line Renewal project is replacing the fixed termination Overhead Line Equipment (OLE) from Liverpool Street to Chelmsford with a modern, high-reliability auto-tensioned system. When complete, the project will have installed a total of 345 new OLE wire runs, including new support structures and associated registration assemblies.

Ten wire runs were completed over the Christmas and New Year period, a total of 10.7km. Two complex overhead line structures and nine section insulators were installed and the auxiliary wire removed through Ilford station. Completing the wiring at Ilford has created a continuous 37km section of auto-tensioned OLE 
between Ilford Station C/E and Chelmsford.

These works were completed one day ahead of schedule to support train operator requirements linked to Ilford depot.

Thanks to enabling works that were undertaken prior to Christmas Day, the Liverpool Street IECC project team successfully decommissioned the existing uninterrupted power supply (UPS), which was provided by seven UPS, and installed one new uninterrupted power supply with an automatic changeover, located within a new relocatable equipment building (REB).

Changeover of the power supply, from the old system to the new, required the temporary power-down of the workstations at the IECC and disconnected the signalling power supply, which stopped control to the signals within parts of Anglia, turning them all red. As no trains were running on Christmas Day, services were not affected.

Repton Street bridge carries the C2C lines from Fenchurch Street to Shoeburyness over Repton Street in East London. As the existing bridge deck was life-expired, it was replaced with two U-type decks, complete with cill beams and standard walkways.

Once the track and ballast had been removed, the old deck was removed using a self-propelled modular transporter (SPMT). The existing brick abutments were broken down, two new standard metal U-decks installed, and the permanent way replaced. As the site was heavily constrained, with over 500 local residents within close proximity to the works, the team worked closely with both residents and local councils during the works to ensure a safe and successful delivery.


The London Overground route between Gospel Oak and Barking currently operates four two-car diesel trains per hour. There is insufficient capacity on these trains to handle the rising passenger demand on the route. Electrifying the route supported the aspirations of TFL to launch a new fleet of four car trains in Spring 2018. It also provides an alternative route for rail freight traffic across North London.

Over Christmas and the New Year, Barking West was commissioned and the possession handed back on time, while registration and panning was completed on Barking Bay. The line fully reopened on Monday 15 January for the existing diesel fleet. Testing will continue, allowing Transport for London to introduce the new electric fleet in the Spring as planned.


As part of SANOS South – the Scotland Accelerated National Operating Strategy – Greenhill Junction Signal Box is being re-controlled onto Edinburgh IECC D Workstation 1 by means of a Time Division Multiplex (TDM) system. A Remote Interlocking Interface (RII) will be added to the IECC D and configured to interface with the Route Relay Interlocking at the Greenhill TDM. Meanwhile, Carmuirs East Junction, Larbert North and Grangemouth Junction areas are to be re-controlled and re-locked using a new WESTLOCK interlocking located at Larbert. The interlocking will communicate with Edinburgh IECC D over FTN via a Remote Interface (RIF) located at Larbert.

Over Christmas and New Year, staff protection systems were provided at key junctions and new fringes were established with adjacent control areas: Stirling Middle SB, Fouldubs SB and Edinburgh IECC C, which was updated for the new fringes with IECC D on the E&G and Grahamston lines. Signalling equipment in the re-controlled area was re-numbered, to avoid duplicated numerical identities on the signallers’ screens.

Repton Street bridge.
Repton Street bridge.

New crossover sections were landed between platforms 10 and 11 at Edinburgh Waverley station. These were preparatory works, with the team taking advantage of the wider Christmas shutdown to install the new infrastructure which will be commissioned in line with Platforms 5 and 6 in December 2018. The new formation will improve flexibility and station resilience by offering a new train path out of Platform 10 to routes north of the station, which has been previously unavailable.

116 metres of new track were installed on Platform 10, along with 50 metres on Platform 11
and the new crossover points, which were promptly clamped out of use.

As part of the wider gauge clearance works for Scotland, a track renewal of Platform 7 at Aberdeen station was completed during the 54-hour Christmas blockade. Once works to the platform have been completed – including new copes and platform surfacing – the platform will be able to accommodate the new IEP fleet, providing benefits to both the route and passengers.

380 new sleepers and 950 tonnes of new ballast were required in the renewal of 250 metres of track. Unfortunately, there were incidents with damage caused to both a station water pipe and S&T points through the use of RRVs, requiring remedial work.

As part of the Coatbridge Central S&C Renewal, IP Track renewed five point ends and 959 metres of plain track during an eight-day blockade between Newton – Gartsherrie South/Rutherglen Jcn over Christmas and New Year.
It was a conventional renewal, using a Kirow crane to install the S&C panels. All went well despite the snow, rain, frost and high winds encountered during the work.

827 metres of plain line was renewed by IP Track on the Up Main line between Glasgow and Edinburgh during a 53-hour possession. This was to replace poor-quality track with undersized ballast in which sandy fines and clay contamination were trapping water. A big issue on site was water egress into the formation. The water was coming from a previously damaged pipe, so the team repaired approximately six metres of pipe to help the situation.

King's Cross drone survey.
King’s Cross drone survey.

London North East

Completion of Moat Hills commissioning on the ECML was the final piece of work to renew seven level crossings under the Doncaster North and Brampton Fell Level Crossing Renewals project. The level crossing was renewed like-for-like as a MCB-CCTV level crossing and, at Christmas, the controlling circuits were upgraded to current standards housed in a new relocatable equipment building (REB).

The works were constrained to Christmas due to the requirement to maintain access for HGVs to the Saria factory adjacent to the crossing, and the project worked closely with the firm to enable completion.

The King’s Cross Remodelling project is a renewals-based scheme that is enhancing the resilience and reliability of the railway infrastructure into King’s Cross station. This is in order to provide a step change in asset performance alongside the introduction of the Virgin IEP Azuma trains and create a railway infrastructure to complement the station building itself.

In 2020, the project will be renewing all railway infrastructures from Kings Cross buffer stops up to Canal junction in the Belle isle area, with a remodelled layout using conventional S&C units rather than the bespoke units seen in today’s layout. The project will also be re-controlling the signalling to Network Rail’s Regional Operating Centre (ROC) in York.

A drone survey was carried out of the area, along with the tracing of cables in the King’s Cross station throat and surveys of gantry 249, which spans the station over the platform.

South East

The installation of a gravitational piped-drainage system in Sevenoaks tunnel continued, after several earlier possessions. Notably, the project set a target of replacing 110 metres of six-foot drainage but delivered 172 metres, a 65 per cent increase on the planned volume.

Similarly, the successful completion of the final commissioning stage for the new Platform 0 at Redhill station, during a 10-day blockade, is the subject of its own article. The work involved the optimization of the existing track layout for the new Up Loop and substantial alteration to the Westpac signalling interlocking in Redhill Relay Room and Signaller’s Panel at Three Bridges ASC.

One of the big-news stories over Christmas was the completion of London Bridge station. Subject of a major article in the last issue of Rail Engineer (issue 159), these final stages are also described by Clive Kessell in his article this month.

Sevenoaks Tunnel.
Sevenoaks Tunnel.


The successful S&C Renewal of 13 point ends and 216 metres of plain line during a nine-day blockade between Basingstoke and Southampton is described by Bob Wright elsewhere in this issue. The renewal required 26 engineering trains with new ballast and components, two tampers and a Kirow 1200 rail crane.

Mark Carne, chief executive of Network Rail said: “I’m really proud of the huge efforts that people right across the industry have made over the festive period as we’ve delivered projects up and down the country and handed them back on time.

“London Bridge gets the media attention, but the other jobs, like the Northam track renewal, the resignalling at Birmingham, the preparation works at Crossrail, connecting up the tunnels on the east and the west, and up and down the country, Edinburgh-Glasgow works, they’re all very exciting improvements to the railway.”

He added: “What’s important about finishing this Christmas period so successfully is that it sets us up really well for an enormously busy 2018. Not only are we submitting our plans for the next regulatory settlement period, CP6, in just a few weeks’ time, we’re also delivering a lot of really big projects.

“This is a year of significant change. Perhaps more importantly, it’s the year when the huge investments that we’re making really start to pay off and passengers will start to see the benefits.”

Thanks to Grete Luxbacher, media relations manager, and to Tom Male, senior business analyst, both at Network Rail, for their help in compiling this roundup of work over the Christmas and New Year ‘holiday’.

This article was written by Nigel Wordsworth.

Read more: Bridge bashing – the bane of the rail industry




Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.