You can achieve a lot in 79 days. Last year, British cyclist Mark Beaumont, inspired by the Jules Verne novel, cycled around the world in less than 80 days, covering more than 18,000 miles and claiming a new world record.
In July, Network Rail embarked on a £200 million remodelling of Derby station and the railway that surrounds it. The project team had 79 days to complete the work and it would have to do so, for the most part, without closing the station.
On 8 October, the station fully reopened to passengers for the first time in two and a half months and, like Mark, it did so with time to spare.
“To do the scale of what it is, as well as then running passenger trains, has been quite a challenge,” said Network Rail’s Kevin Newman (pictured right), the project’s senior sponsor, during a site visit on day 67.
“Quite a challenge” may be something of an understatement. While closing the station completely may have been a simpler option, Kevin revealed that diverting all services away from Derby would only have shaved a week off the delivery time and severely disrupted passengers travelling through the East Midlands. The decision was taken instead to partially close the station and keep as many trains running as possible.
Managed with composure
Work began with a possession on the Birmingham line, retaining North-South services. This was then extended to include the South lines towards Trent and the second phase saw Derby effectively become a terminus station for trains from the south and west, with no services running north of the station towards Sheffield.
But the challenges of this way of working appear to have been managed with composure. Over the course of the 79 days, there was only one day where no trains ran at all and the programme was never more than a few hours behind schedule. As well as running passenger trains and maintaining access to East Midlands Trains’ Etches Park depot, the project team was able to allow Bombardier to move newly built trains out of its Litchurch Lane factory and, in the early phase, accommodated a delivery of aviation fuel via the Sinfin branch to Rolls Royce.
As always, there were some testing moments. A lack of accurate records and drawings have caused issues, with buried utilities and other surprises appearing where they shouldn’t. Kevin explained how at one stage they had to excavate concrete blocks the size of vans that weren’t on any documentation for the site.
Network Rail also had to work with Severn Trent Water and Derby City Council to repair damage to a listed road bridge which crosses over the railway on Alfreton Road after a water main burst in August. The fact that the entire length of the railway north of Derby sits within the Derwent Valley Mills Unesco World Heritage Site hasn’t made things any easier.
That’s why measures were taken throughout to keep the project on target. Project manager Kerry Arrowsmith explained how £7 million was spent upgrading the diversion route via the Erewash Valley line ahead of the 79-day partial closure. Additional plant and equipment was also on standby in case of any failures, to minimise delays and spare the railway from anymore adverse publicity.
“Unfortunately there’s one diversionary route round Derby, and if that fell over for any reason we’d lose a lot of services. So we made sure we had strategic teams at certain places, we had spares at strategic places, we built maintenance into the timetable, so we had white periods where we could get on and do certain bits of maintenance work on the different points etc.”
She added: “Obviously the timetable team did a fantastic job in timetabling all the trains because literally everything that comes into Derby was going round it, so we had all the freight, all the CrossCountry trains and a lot of the East Midlands trains went all the way round.”
Renewal and enhancements
Passengers looking out at the intertwining track beneath the London Road bowstring-arch bridge which sits atop the railway to the south of the station may have wondered what all the fuss was about, but the project has involved a staggering amount of work.
As well as the station’s new Platform 6, Network Rail and its principal contractors Galliford Try, Siemens and the S&C North Alliance (Network Rail and AmeySersa) – plus their numerous subcontractors – have laid more than 15 kilometres of new track; installed brand new signalling equipment, which will enable control to migrate completely to the East Midlands Control Centre (EMCC); and upgraded Spondon level crossing. At its peak, around 900 people were on site every day, spread across three eight-hour shifts on a sprawling site which stretched out from the station for around four miles in each direction.
Kevin described the remodelling around Derby as one of the biggest engineering schemes ever undertaken by Network Rail. Although relatively modest in terms of cost, the project required 240 engineering trains, consumed 150,000 tonnes of new ballast and installed 21,177 sleepers.
The project marks the end of the Midland main line resignalling programme and the start of the next major upgrade programme, which aims to transform service quality on the LNE and East Midlands route during CP6.
The work itself involved a combination of renewals and enhancements. As well as replacing life-expired signalling equipment, the project’s track engineers had the job of untangling the track layout around the station. The existing layout hadn’t changed much since Victorian times and was designed to accommodate high volumes of coal traffic that no longer exist.
The new layout is a “massive simplification”, said Kevin, and will mean fewer trains will have to be held at red lights outside the station waiting for a platform. Passengers will immediately notice improved journey times from the faster line speeds through the station (from 15 mph to 30/40 mph) and better facilities at the station.
The installation of a new bay platform at Derby station has actually created two new platforms, although only Platform 6 has been commissioned for passenger services. Platform 7 will be available during emergencies, but it will mainly be used by East Midlands Trains as a service platform to collect train crew, removing the need for trains leaving Etches Park to perform a shunting move into the Chaddesden loop. Sections of the Chaddesden loop have also been doubled to provide more flexibility for empty coach movements.
For the staff on track, the project involved a prolonged period working alongside an operational railway – a changing one at that.
Everyone who worked on site was required to have completed a ‘line open to traffic’ brief that explained which lines were open at different times. This information was then reemphasised in engineering supervisor and COSS briefs, but they also tried to create physical barriers between worksites and running lines wherever possible.
The extremely hot weather in July exacerbated another common hazard. The ballast being delivered to site was extremely dry and, as a result, was generating more dust than normal, posing an even greater risk to staff. Dust suppression units had to be used around the station and staff working within the 30-metre exclusion zone were required to wear full breathing apparatus.
Right up there
Kevin has been connected with resignalling work around the East Midlands for the past 10 to 15 years. He was involved in the Nottingham resignalling upgrade in 2013, the Midland main line speed upgrade and the refurbishment of Nottingham station, something he is particularly proud of.
That hard work was almost undone earlier this year when part of the station was devastated following a fire. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Kevin, recalling his shock at hearing what had happened. “I saw the pictures on the news and it was awful, absolutely awful.”
While Kevin admits the restoration of Nottingham station’s iconic porte cochère was probably his favourite, the sheer immense scale of the work at Derby has become a defining scheme for him. “It’s right up there.”