Plans to improve the railway at Reading were first launched in September 2008. Since then, contracts have been let and work has been progressing on this £850m project under the guidance of Network Rail’s Project Director Bill Henry and his team. the rail engineer has featured a number of articles about specific aspects of the early phases of the project.

Passing through Reading station allows you a glimpse of the different aspects of work underway. The site is extensive, with an array of contractors, plant, equipment, mounds and ditches stretching five miles east to west and one mile north to south of the station. Bill Henry explained that, to ensure that this complex project was successful, collaborative working was absolutely essential, not only between the different contractors on site but also with the Train and Freight Operating Companies as well as Reading Borough council and their community. Bill described it as “arm in arm delivery”.

Internal challenge

There is a myriad of activities underway, bridge reconstructions, demolition of a signal box and station buildings, temporary station canopies, new embankments, a rediscovered underpass, signalling work and new station platforms just to name a few. Work was originally planned to be completed by 2016, but Bill has set his team a challenge to reduce this programme by 18 months and, by stimulating innovation and challenging their plans they have shaved a year off the delivery schedule.

Every day, over 50,000 people use Reading station and more than 700 trains pass through it. Passenger numbers will double by 2030. In addition, freight business has increased by 60% with rail freight traffic from Southampton and other ports passing through Reading. One freight train that passes through the station is reputed to be one kilometre in length. As a consequence, Reading is becoming one of the busiest and most important locations in the country.

Brunel’s legacy

Problems at Reading Station stem back to its original Brunel design. Brunel built a simple one-sided station where all the buildings and both the platforms were on the same side of the tracks. This meant that trains had to cross each other to manoeuvre in and out of the station. The basic layout has influenced all future track developments as new routes were opened and it is totally inadequate for the twenty-first century.

The aim of the project is to untangle the railway lines, improve train speeds as they pass through the station area and reduce delays incurred whilst trains wait for vacant platforms and/or other conflicting train movements to be completed. This will be achieved by:

•        Installing new signalling throughout and relocating control to the new Thames Valley signal box at Didcot;

•        Lengthening and reconstructing 6 bridges;

•        Building a flyover for high speed trains;

•        Demolishing a train depot and building a new one on a new site thus freeing up space for a new eastern chord to improve freight train movements;

•        Adding five new platforms in all, four on the northern side of the station and one on the south, plus other platform extensions

•        Building a new station footbridge and a northern entrance to the station;

•        Re-opening a southern tunnel to allow trains from the north side of the station to travel to the south east without crossing main lines;

•        Introducing a walk through tunnel for the public to pass from north to south of the station.


That is the plan in very simple terms, so what progress has been made to date?


To start with, the signalling work which is critical to the success of the project is progressing well. Network Rail has recently awarded a £28 million signalling contract for the Reading Western Mainlines programme to Invensys Rail. The scope of the programme covers the remodelling of the Reading Station Area from Sonning to Pangbourne, the new train depot and the four new platforms. Throughout the life of the contract, Invensys Rail will be responsible for the design, supply, installation, testing and commissioning of the signalling works, including new LED signals, new axle counters as the form of train detection and new four-foot and lineside signalling equipment.

The award of this contract follows the success of the Reading Enabling Project, an intensive 27 month programme which saw control of Reading Station transferred to three Westlock computer-based interlockings at the new Thames Valley Signalling Control Centre at Didcot. One of these was remodelled as part of the Reading Southern Lines signalling project which was commissioned over Christmas 2011.

The first major commissioning of the Reading Western Mainlines project will deliver increased capacity at Reading Station and will take place over Easter 2013; the final commissioning is scheduled for August 2015.

Underbridge reconstructions

To the southeast side of the station, the underbridge at Vastern Road has been extended by Bam Nuttall in order to accommodate the construction of the new Platform 4 and extension of Platforms 5 & 6 plus an additional track to service Platform 4. Only two tracks will remain between the current Platform 4 and 8. This will mean that the width of the current Platform 4 will be increased significantly, improving passenger flow throughout this current bottleneck as it reaches the exit to the station. The work is now well advanced.

Network Rail appointed Bam Nuttall as the Principal Contractor responsible for the design and construction of the new Caversham Road Underbridge. In turn, Bam Nuttall appointed Gifford Consultants to design the new, orthotropic steel deck which was fabricated in 3m sections before transportation to site. The reconstruction of this bridge is a key part of the plan and the new 40m long, 17m wide, 0.65m deep orthotropic bridge deck significantly widens the throat at the west end of the station providing room for seven tracks to serve the new platforms.

The bridge deck, ballast walls and cill beams were transferred from their construction site adjacent to the railway as one, using ALE transporters. The total weight of the bridge deck, ballast and kentledge required to help balance the deck evenly, was more than 1000 tonnes. The short route of 50m was not quite straight and there were some delicate manoeuvres required before the work was completed successfully over the Christmas period 2010/11.

Once this structure was in place, buildings on the north side of the station were demolished to create a path through to the east and south side of the station via the disused southern tunnel. A £500,000 contract was let to Buckingham Demolition to demolish the signal box, telephone exchange, Royal Mail buildings as well as other ancillary structures, work which is now complete. Old track and sidings have been removed and two new island platforms are being built. Costain/HOCHTIEF JV have been appointed as the Principal Contractor for all the station work.

Station Subway

To complete the path under the main lines from the north side to the south side of the station, the Southern Tunnel was reopened. However, some repair and renewal work was necessary. In January 2012 the Costain / HOCHTIEF JV, working within a 52 hour possession in collaboration with Carillion and Invensys, removed 45m of track and signalling equipment to expose the existing subway deck. The Costain/HOCHTIEF JV awarded a subcontract to Cleshar for the next stage of work which was to renew the subway deck. This aspect of the work had to be completed within a 35 hour period, within the original 52 hour possession.

After clearing the top ballast from the existing deck, Cleshar positioned a 1,000 tonne Liebherr LTM 1800 mobile crane, supplied by Ainscough, to remove the exposed steel troughing. The top section of the brick abutments were then removed to enable the installation of two new precast concrete cill units fitted with elastometric bearings on which a new precast concrete deck was then installed. The new subway deck, weighing 41 tonnes, had Pandrol fastenings directly attached to assist the speedy replacement of the track by Carillion and to ensure that work was successfully completed on time.

Cow Lane South & North Underbridges

Cow Lane is one of the many examples of how close collaboration with Reading Borough Council can benefit all concerned. Cow Lane South Bridge was an old, barrel-arched structure carrying two freight lines over a narrow highway which was a nightmare for cyclists and pedestrians and totally inadequate for current road traffic requirements.

The highway was closed early December 2011, and Bam Nuttall started work to remove and replace the old bridge and construct a new two-lane highway plus cycle path and pavement under a new structure. A new concrete bridge deck and abutments were constructed close to the old structure and a 66-axle transporter was used to lift and carry the new 1560 tonne bridge and its abutments into place. The work went according to plan and freight trains were able to run again as planned on the 27 December 2011.

By 2015 work to the Cow Lane North structure will be completed. This work has to follow the construction of the new viaduct when the main lines will be diverted off the existing structure. It is at this point that the real benefit of the project will be appreciated by the motorists, cyclists and pedestrians who will be able to enjoy the benefits of a new two lane highway, cycle path and pavement through both Cow Lane structures. An added bonus is that the improved clearances will allow the council to introduce a new, much needed, double-decker bus route.

New Train Care Depot

The existing First Great Western train care depot has to be demolished to make way for the new eastern chord, designed to accommodate freight traffic, which will pass under the main lines to continue through the station area without inconveniencing other trains.

A new train care depot is starting to emerge on the north side of the site and the work is extensive. To accelerate the programme, Bam Nuttall was asked to carry out extensive drainage and ground works whilst Jacobs Engineering completed the design of the new depot.

VolkerFitzpatrick installed 269 piles and is now completing the construction of the depot. Invensys will carry out all the associated signalling work while Carillion will install the new track layout. The progress is visible and it is all starting to take shape. The plan is to have the new depot operational by 2013.

Platforms and new footbridge

The demolition of buildings and other ancillary structures to the north of the station has created space for the building of a retaining wall to support the construction of two new bays, forming four new platforms. This work is now well advanced. Also, a very impressive 30m wide footbridge has been designed by Tata Consultancy. The bridge, referred to as the “Transfer Deck”, will span across all the platforms linking the north and south side of the station. It will be constructed in three parts in the newly created space outside the station on the north side and then each section will be launched into position.

Once the complete deck is in place, escalators, lifts and stairs will be constructed on both sides of the deck at each platform. This work will be completed by May 2013. However, there will be an 8 week interlude in 2012 to accommodate the Olympic Games.

The planned development to the north side of the station will completely transform the station and will help to open up development land between the station and the Thames River, something that the Reading Borough Council has wanted to do for some time. It also negates the need for through traffic to the south side of the station which would certainly reduce congestion and enhance the area.

Work on the flyover and then the eastern chord is planned to start in 2013. Bill Henry’s determination to save at least “a year’s worth” of work, and preferably 18 months, continues. By working collaboratively with all parties he believes that it is achievable. He has already identified an opportunity during Easter 2013 when, by reviewing work planned for this period and by involving the train and freight businesses in the discussions, the programme is being amended. 19 weeks of work will now take place during a 10 day blockade over the Easter period.

Key Milestones

Key current emerging milestones are:

•        2012 – Platforms 5 and 6 extended

•        2013 – Depot operational and new platform and station entrances in place

•        2015 – Cow Lane widening complete providing much safer road use

•        2015 – Viaduct and eastern chord complete


Bill explained to me how they were determined to use latest technology to best effect. CAD has enabled the project team to maintain up-to-date records of all buried services in the area. Four Dimensional (4D) technology is being used for flood risk modelling and planning applications. Driver signalling sighting simulators are on the agenda. Bill is determined to develop the technology available so that his team, equipped with an ipad, may go anywhere on site to review what that site will look like when the work is complete. He expects this technology to be widespread across his project within the next eight months.


Safety, health and environmental issues are continuously monitored in detail as you would expect. To increase the focus, Bill has introduced a STAR award system for meeting and surpassing expectations in a number of areas, including housekeeping, standards, supervision and management as well as public and site specific issues. One senses that Bill sets high standards and expects his team to achieve them. There is an element of fun there too when he explains that there is a special award to rival the “Golden Rabbit” – the “Platinum Badger Award”, based on performance relating to quality, safety and productivity. This is presented periodically to the managing director of a successful supplier company.

Reading is an intriguing project with many potential benefits that are clearly evident to the TOCs, FOCs and travelling public. Twelve months has been shaved off the programme so far and Bill is determined to find an additional six months. All parties are working together and there is a very healthy feel about this enormously important project to the south west of the rail network. Successful completion of this venture will set the scene for future electrification of the route and hopefully for other major projects that are currently in the planning stage. Hopefully, by that time the Platinum Badger award will be well worn through good use.