In the face of continental economic meltdown, two diametrically opposed alternatives present themselves. The first: retrench, cut and struggle on with less. The second: in a reflowering of Keynesian macro-economic thought, invest to promote growth.
Recent developments in the Northwest have favoured the latter course. On 3 October 2011, Buckshaw Parkway became the latest addition to the national rail network. This new station serves a major development at Buckshaw Village in Lancashire with direct services to Manchester, Preston and beyond. The £6.8M project developed Network Rail’s modular station designs to deliver the station platforms, buildings, access and car parking on time and within budget.
Buckshaw Village is a massive brownfield development on the 395 hectare site of the former Royal Ordnance Factory. A masterplan was created as the munitions works wound down in the 1990s, and proposed new residential and industrial zones.
Realisation of the plan is well underway. To date, around half of the planned 4,000 houses have been built and facilities include a new primary school, community centre, sports pitches and doctors’ surgery. A new railway station has long been integral to the masterplan for this new community.
County Councillor Tim Ashton, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “It’s really important that with every new and emerging development like Buckshaw Village we make sure there is a sustainable public transport system for residents and commuters to use.”
Councillor Peter Goldsworthy, Leader of Chorley Council, added, “The new station is something that residents and businesses have told us is really important for Buckshaw so I’m delighted that the work of Chorley Council has helped make this a reality.”
The project is being delivered by Network Rail but the funding comes entirely from third parties. Chorley Borough Council is funding £3.5M from a Section 106 agreement with the former landowner, BAE Systems. Developers Redrow and Barratt also worked in partnership to transfer the land for the station to Network Rail and facilitate the construction stages and other developers, including Orbit, took account of the needs of the station in their plans.
However, a £3.3M funding gap remained. Lancashire County Council successfully targeted the government’s Community Infrastructure Fund which was an ideal source, specifically designed to fund transport schemes that support housing growth. This funding, confirmed in August 2009, had a two-year spending deadline, giving the project urgency.
Project partners Lancashire County Council, Chorley Borough Council, Network Rail and Northern Rail have collaborated closely. Richard Watts, Rail Projects Manager at Lancashire County Council, explains that the project board included representatives from all four parties: “We brought together senior people and gave leadership from a high level. The people there had the authority and clout to make it happen”.
From the outset the scheme has been about more than just a station: it is a mini transport hub. The forecourt has taxi spaces, a ‘kiss-and-ride’ drop-off point and a bus stop. The main link-roads through Buckshaw Village have dedicated cycle paths, and the station has 10 cycle lockers and space for 40 cycles on the stands.
As befits a ‘Parkway’ station, Buckshaw provides significant car parking with 200 spaces plus the regulation 5% or 10 disabled spaces. Parking is free, similar to the other parkway stations on the Manchester to Preston line at Horwich and Lostock.
The platforms are 150m long to allow 6-car formations to use the station. The planning permissions and construction details permit future extension for 8-cars.
Step-free access is provided to the station building and platforms from the car park by careful grading. A 24m-span footbridge links the platforms, with step-free access via the striking terracotta-tiled twin lift shafts. The station building has a complementary appearance and provides ticketing facilities, toilets and covered waiting space.
Network Rail’s October 2007 Stations Strategy envisages a consistent, recognisably high quality being created by new and standardised station facilities. To meet this aim, Network Rail’s design for Buckshaw Parkway proposed using elements from the modular stations initiative.
Several stations have trialled the modular concept, including Greenhithe, Mitcham Eastfields and Corby. Since these flagship examples opened in 2008-2009, a steady stream of station redevelopments such as Uckfield and Berkswell have used similar details.
Initial costings of the standard station modules put the price beyond the available budget. A value-engineering exercise maintained a delicate balance between trimming 30% off the costs whilst maintaining full political support.
Significant savings were realised by optimising the station building. A tenet of the modular concept is that the designs offer flexibility for each station to meet the needs of passengers, operators and the community. In this case, the standard 12m by 12m building footprint is provided and the aesthetics remain the same as the other modular stations: distinctive red-tile cladding with white louvres above, flanked by full-height glazing.
However, only a single storey is provided rather than the double-height offerings seen, for example, at Corby. Further design work allowed rationalisation both of the interior layout and also the structural arrangement with the removal of intermediate columns.
The station is operated by Northern Rail and is staffed seven days per week. Lee Wasnidge, Area Director for Northern Rail, said, “The ticket office is manned from first train to last and there is a waiting area and disabled access to ensure people using the station are well looked after. The new station doesn’t affect the number of trains stopping at Chorley or Leyland with three trains an hour in each direction stopping at Buckshaw Parkway for most of the day.”
County Councillor Mark Perks, who is the ward councillor for the area, added, “It’s been a key milestone for local people and it’s great that we have a direct rail link from Buckshaw Village to cities such as Manchester”.
All Northern Rail services will stop at Buckshaw Parkway and some, but not all, TransPennine Express services. Manchester’s main stations, Piccadilly and Victoria, are reached in 40 to 50 minutes. Blackpool has a similar journey time, and Preston is within 10 minutes. Typical off-peak routes are Blackpool North to Manchester Victoria, Preston to Hazel Grove and Blackpool North to Manchester Airport.
This line is well-used and has short journey times between stations, making on-train ticket checks difficult. Revenue protection is accommodated by channelling all passengers through the station building.
West Coast upgrade
The West Coast upgrade in the early 2000s incorporated critical enabling works for the new station, without which it is unlikely that the station would have been viable in the planned location. These interventions included capacity improvements by redoubling the link to the main line at Euxton Junction, and revisiting the signalling overrun and operational assessments to remove the need to stop at two red signals on the junction approach.
Once the West Coast upgrade was completed in December 2008, the overall service pattern was radically altered. This timetable change also introduced additional dwell time for local services at Chorley station, compensating for the future extra station stop. Importantly, this gave flexibility to open Buckshaw Parkway without needing to coincide with a timetable change.
The station is not the first at this site. Until 1965, a halt served the Royal Ordnance Factory. Situated on a fairly straight and level section of track, tweaks of only 75mm lift and 25mm slew were needed to achieve a true straight alignment and grade prior to constructing the new platforms. However, even this minor adjustment needed to be run out over 1km to present a smooth alignment for trains travelling at speed; fortunately the tamp stopped short of the main line at Euxton junction.
Out of the ground
A competitive tender resulted in contractor Volker Fitzpatrick winning the design and build project. They had the advantage of using designer Tata Steel, who designed the first trial modular building which was erected at Ringwood, Hampshire, in 2007.
Site remediation was carried out previously from 2000 to 2003 by BAE Systems Environmental Ltd when 160 hectares of the brownfield site were treated. Martin Whyatt, Network Rail’s project manager, says, “In comparison to other projects, that meant we could be reasonably confident there was no unexploded ordnance”.
Challenging ground conditions remained, though. Within months of contract award in October 2011, the initial investigations showed weak ground and it looked as though the platforms would need to be piled, dramatically increasing the programme and cost. Additional investigations were undertaken, says Martin Whyatt, and enabled a more straightforward concrete raft foundation to be justified.
Levels were constrained by two features: the railway and the village link roads, with a vertical difference of around 2m between them. Over 26,000 cubic metres of fill were placed to build up the car parking and access to match the platform level and provide step-free access. With up to 45 truckloads of fill arriving per day for three months, it was a major environmental credit that this was all recycled material sourced from the Buckshaw development site, and no surplus material was sent to landfill.
The government funding with its financial year-end deadline meant that the cash-flow had to be tailored to ensure suitable expenditure by this date. Long-lead and high-value items were procured early. Groundworks were then the main focus until around June 2011 before the station proper began to emerge. The most visible symbol of progress was the new footbridge, lifted into place during an overnight possession on Sunday 10 July 2011.
Open to service
With the genesis of the project nearly two decades ago, it is a reminder that transport investment is a long-term consideration rather than a rapid response to a banking crisis. However, provision of the station should certainly help to achieve those Keynsian aims, with investment in infrastructure helping to stimulate production in the region.
And at the local level, the addition of the station is one more step in the transformation of Buckshaw Village from a development site into a fully fledged community.