Amongst the critical works completed by Network Rail and its suppliers over the Christmas period were those at Bletchley, a key location on the West Coast Main-line (WCML).

Using the traditional possession of the fast and slow lines through the festive period from Christmas Eve through to 27 December 2011, two new signal gantries with four new signals were fitted and commissioned, a new signal gantry structure was installed and major overhead line modifications completed.

The Bletchley project, of which the work just completed is a relatively small part, was originally part of the West Coast Route Modernisation (WCRM) project. The plan was to re-model and re-signal the whole of the Milton Keynes/Bletchley area.

However, the Bletchley part of the scheme was not required to deliver the WCRM principal objective, which was to provide the infrastructure to support Virgin’s Very High Frequency 2008 timetable.

So the original Bletchley scope of work was rejected by the Network Rail and the project team was asked to re-engineer the work and resubmit a proposal for a simpler and more cost effective scheme.

The revised proposal was submitted and in June 2009 it was authorised based on a project estimate of £123 million.

New scope

The approved scope was to renew life expired signalling and electrification equipment that essentially dates back to the 1960s, to remodel and realign the tracks to permit 125mph running on the up fast line at Bletchley South junction, to extend platforms at Bletchley station to allow for 12 car trains on platforms 4&5, to replace other life expired assets (including track, telecoms and control equipment) and to recover redundant assets.

In addition, signalling control of this section of the WCML was to be moved from the Bletchley power signal box to Rugby SCC while the Bedford/Bletchley lines were to come under the control of Marston Vale SCC. A workstation to cover Bletchley had already been provided at Rugby SCC as a part of the WCRM works.

The delivery plan for the new scheme incorporated 8 main sequential stages in order to minimise the disruption to the existing railway operation. The first of these stages was completed at Christmas 2010, when contractor Amey Colas installed the last of 10 new point ends at new Drayton Road and Water Eaton junctions. This completed Amey Colas’ involvement with the project.

New contractors

In late 2010 a further 6 contractors were appointed for the main body of the works. Carillion was appointed to be the contractor for the track and electrification works. Signalling and power works were awarded to Signalling Solutions Limited, telecoms to Telent, control systems to GE Transportation Systems, civils works to the Buckingham Group and possession management to MDA.

The project team are currently working towards stage 6 of the project, the major signalling stage that will deliver the final commissioning of the new signalling and power system and the re-control to Rugby and Marston Vale as already described.

This stage is planned to take place under a nine day possession at Christmas 2012. The first four days will involve closure of all lines, followed by 5 days with only the slow lines closed.

The scale of the works planned meant that it will be imprudent to attempt everything in the Christmas 2012 closure, and the stages between stage 0 and stage 6 have been developed to advance as much work as possible into earlier pre agreed possession opportunities, thus minimising the effect on the operational railway. This included the Christmas 2011 works.

Towards 2012

2012 will contain a number of stages of work that will primarily focus on changes to track layouts in areas either away from the WCML or where these can be achieved with minimal effect on day-to-day operations.

These will use the planned possessions at Easter and over the May bank holiday. The former will entail the renewal of Bletchley East junction, while the later possession will see the renewal of further S&C in the main running lines.

In parallel with these staged works, the track drainage system in the area is being extensively upgraded with the installation of 3,600m of new drainage, as it is essential when laying new track to ensure it is well drained.

The work at Bletchley station to extend platforms 4 & 5 will enable longer trains of up to 12 carriages. The new signalling design includes provision of bi-directional signalling through platform 5 and an associated turn-back facility clear of the slow lines, increasing operational flexibility at the station

A loop line is to be provided for trains up to 775m long that will facilitate regulation, allow inspection of trains following hot axle-box detector alarms and provide a direct route for freight trains in either direction between the slow lines and the flyover.

The early completion of the increased line speed on the up fast through Bletchley South (completed January 2010) provided 125mph running through Bletchley on both fast lines.

Network Rail’s project manager, Chris Hurst, emphasised that the Christmas 2012 blockade will be the only WCML “disruptive” possession requested by the entire project. He added that, so far the project is on programme, within budget and has an excellent safety record. Work to date has had minimal disruption to the everyday operation of the railway

Chris says that relations with all the train operators have been excellent, particularly with London Midland, who have been very co-operative and positive about the scheme. There is a real enthusiasm to see the tired assets of the area replaced with modern equipment and an improved layout, allowing Network Rail and their customers to provide improved services to travellers and freight customers alike.

The scheme is due to be completed by June 2013.