Over the past few years, the rail industry has seen an increase in station improvement projects across the UK. These include the development of concourses and canopies, and the provision of drop off areas and car parks. The needs of commuters have changed, and consequently many stations are no longer deemed to be of sufficient quality for today’s modern society.

Even with a number of projects running at one time, it is certainly not a case of one size fits all, as each refurbishment requires a different approach to ensure the best results can be delivered within the given budgets and timeframes. It is also important to limit disruption to rail passengers and those living in the surrounding area.

In addition to minor upgrades to improve the station environment for train passengers, there are also some national schemes behind the more extensive refurbishment projects. One such programme is ‘Access for All’, a Department for Transport funded scheme being delivered by Network Rail to create step-free access from station entrances to platforms and described in Issue 84 of the rail engineer (October 2011).

Leading civil engineering firm J. Murphy & Sons Limited has been successful in its tendering for much of this work on a number of stations nationwide.

Horley Station

Murphy delivered an extensive work programme at Horley Station in Surrey as part of the ‘Access for All’ scheme. The project involved the construction of three lifts from the ticket office to platform level, together with the associated power services upgrade. The station improvements needed to be completed in a way that not only provided the desired results, but was also sympathetic to the style and look of the existing buildings.

The project was carried out over a period of 52 weeks – an extension to the intended 34 week schedule due to the discovery of a redundant aviation fuel main within one of the lift shaft bases!

Lifts to serve platforms one and four were constructed as standalone units, while the lift to island platform two and three utilised an existing brick shaft. All three lifts are operated hydraulically, with a new lift motor room located to the rear of the brick shaft. The existing station electrical supply needed to be upgraded to power the new lifts. This also supported improvements to both CCTV and lighting, making the station look brighter and feel safer to passengers.

While designing and installing three lifts may seem relatively straightforward, the Horley Station refurbishment is a classic example of different approaches being required even within the same project as each lift shaft and motor room had its own individual challenges. Prefabrication of both the steelwork and cladding was carried out off-site, allowing the lift shafts to be constructed in a shorter time despite the tight space constraints and limited access.

In addition to reacting to issues as and when they arose on site, Murphy was able to foresee potential problems early on in the planning process, such as the restricted level of access to platform four. To address this, Murphy worked with Network Rail to change the original design use of auger piles to steel tube piles. This alteration eliminated the need to remove excavated material and reduced the amount of concrete needed, both of which meant that the work became much more straightforward and was not hindered by only having irregular access to the platform.

As night-time working was a crucial element in completing the project with minimal disruption to passengers, it was important to achieve cooperation from local residents who might have been affected. Murphy worked closely with those living nearby, keeping them informed of dates and times that the work would be carried out over the period of seven months. This regular communication ensured the project was not interrupted by objections – in fact, not one complaint was received.

Pitsea Station

At the end of 2011, Murphy completed a £2.5 million design and construction contract for Network Rail to provide step free access improvements at Pitsea Station near Basildon in Essex. Three new lift shafts and staircases have now been installed, which creates an accessible route from the station entrance to and between all of the platforms. Murphy was also responsible for the associated platform, ground works and M&E works.

The works were carried out while the station and its platforms were still fully operational. With an average of 6,000 passengers passing through it every day, it was not possible to close even part of the station.

Careful consideration was given as to how to manage the site to deliver the best results within the given time frame, but with minimum disruption. This was achieved with track possession and isolations, which allowed for the work to be carried out without affecting train services during normal daytime hours. Temporary installations, such as footbridges, also reduced inconvenience for station users.

Mirroring the success of the project at Horley Station, the Murphy team was able to keep the disturbance to passengers and the surrounding community to a minimum. Feedback and client commendations demonstrated that this was achieved, and again there were no complaints made during the programme of works which were carried out with zero accidents and RIDDOR free.

Berkswell Station

While ‘Access for All’ schemes are having a notable impact on stations across the UK, it is not just extensive renovations that can make a difference to passengers and the usability of today’s railways.

Such was the case at Berkswell Station, located just outside of Birmingham at Balsall Common near Solihull. Being on the commuter route into Birmingham city centre, it is a popular station with more than 200,000 passengers using it every year and Network Rail wanted to improve the environment for both station users and railway staff. In addition, the disused station master’s house was to be demolished as it was becoming an eyesore, and it was not financially viable to repair and maintain the building.

One of the biggest improvements was the upgrade of the ticket office. The existing single storey, wooden ticket office had been built in approximately 1912 and was now in poor condition and did not meet current standards for the provision of staff facilities. To ensure the construction could be completed with minimal on-site time, Murphy designed and installed an innovative, modular-build type. The new ticket office is a steel frame clad building, which has given the station a 21st century feel and appearance. In addition, a separate low height accessible counter allows disabled passengers to use the station much more easily.

Other improvements include the removal of old passenger ramps, with reconfigured access to make it easier for passengers to get onto the station. Murphy also fitted new handrails and fencing round the entrance, again reflecting the modern feel of the improved station, and new cycle storage.

The year ahead

Murphy is continuing to work closely with Network Rail on a number of key projects; in addition to station refurbishments, there are a number of bridge and electrification schemes that will run throughout 2012.

As well as general refurbishment, better accessibility and usability of stations is clearly an important requirement of modern society. The ‘Access for All’ scheme will be running until 2014, so there are still many more stations that will be improved and upgraded over the next two years which will benefit thousands of passengers.