The route from Doncaster to Water Orton runs for 110 miles through the East and West Midlands. It passes through Rotherham, bypasses Sheffield down to Chesterfield, and then takes the Midland Mainline through Alfreton and Langley Mill to Trent Junction.

Thereafter it uses the freight-only line past Castle Donington, joins the Derby-Birmingham main line at Willington and runs down to Water Orton, just after Coleshill Parkway.

It is an ideal route for freight from the North East to the West Midlands apart from one thing – it is too narrow. As it stands, large containers can’t pass down the line without fouling bridges, platforms and station canopies.

So Doncaster to Water Orton (or D2WO) is the latest part of the rail network to be tackled as part of the gauge enhancement programme. Originally planned to enlarge various freight routes to W10 gauge, this section is now being taken out to W12 by Carillion under their multi-asset framework agreement (MAFA) with Network Rail.

One scheme – many sites

A total of forty-seven different worksites are included in the project. The work, as originally planned by Amey under its Grip 4 design, is split down into three main areas. Eight stations need work, either platform modifications to copings and height, or awning alterations. Five bridges have to be modified, either by full or partial reconstruction, or by jacking to increase the clearance underneath them, and track at a further 38 locations needs altering, mainly lowering, again to improve clearance under bridges.

Some sites are close together, others are more isolated. At some, access is easy, at others more problematic. Each one is an individual challenge, even if the actual work to be carried out is similar.

Straight talking

Martin Thornton is the liaison officer for Carillion, which means he is the link between the project team and everyone who isn’t Network Rail. He meets with local authorities, residents, utilities and other interested parties whom the work will affect to discuss the work that is necessary and attempt to minimise any disruption.

Any bridge reconstruction, or even jacking, has an impact on the other services that cross the railway on the same bridge. It is part of Martin’s role to negotiate any diversions to those services, which could include erecting a temporary service bridge. Footpaths also occasionally need diverting, again by temporary footbridges and other means, and Martin negotiates those as well.

So, knowing that five bridges would need major work, Martin sat down with the electricity, gas and water companies to discuss the temporary move of their services. However, as part of those negotiations, he also looked at other alternatives which could be less disruptive and, to date, the anticipated scope has been significantly reduced.

Martin isn’t the only team member looking at alternatives. Paul Smedley leads the track delivery team, and his knowledge of the area coupled, with many years of track experience has led to alternative proposals for three bridges. It now looks possible that the track can be lowered rather than the bridges having to be reconstructed, potentially saving a lot of work, much disruption, and money.

The reasons why the plans could be altered were various. Watling Street bridge number 76 is one example. It is very close to Wilnecote station, and lowering the track would also have lowered it through the station, adversely affecting the platform height. However, since Amey drew up its designs, an existing disruptive access has been identified. Carillion can take advantage of that, drop the platforms and lower the track, and avoid an expensive rebuild of the bridge.

Network Rail is naturally very keen to save money on this, and every other project. So much so that Carillion is on a bonus relative to the amount that can be saved. Not having to rebuild three bridges is therefore very advantageous to both parties.

Lean and mean

Of course, not all 47 sites are being worked on at once. In fact the whole scheme, worth about ¬£20 million in design and construction, is being run with approximately 30 people. 15 are involved in the overarching management of the project, and a further 15 on track supervising the work. Additional labour for the track gangs comes from Carillion’s sister company Sky Blue, and various subcontractors are brought in to perform specialist work.

Carillion’s project manager is Alan Sheffield, and one aspect that pleases him and the Network Rail project team most about the organisation is the lack of disruptive possessions that he has had to request. “We worked very closely with Network Rail while we were planning this,” he commented. “Especially on the busy Derby to Birmingham section of the route. They already had various work planned for other reasons, and we changed the order of the sites we are working on to fall in with their plans to provide our delivery plan. As a result, the main train operating company was initially not required to experience any further disruptive possessions due to this scheme being delivered.”

Liaison with Network Rail was also important for other reasons. Much of the materials are being supplied free-issue, and the National Delivery Service (NDS) has to arrange for trains to deliver those materials to site, trains which have to be booked 35 weeks ahead.

Although in theory this scheme is made up of lots of small projects, having so many of them in close proximity means that one management team can look after all of them. This helps with negotiations with NDS, and also means that more experienced managers can be allocated than any one worksite would justify. That in turn makes delivery on time more certain, and gives the whole project the skill set that will make it a success.

So good is that team, that it has been “lent” to other small, local Carillion projects as a type of “flying squad” to sort out certain snags and situations. This means that small MAFA and other projects, which don’t justify heavy management resources, have also benefited from having the D2WO team based locally.

After planning from October 2011, work started earlier this year. The whole scheme has to be completed by March 2014, the end of CP4, as it cannot run over into the next control period. By early July, six track lowerings have been completed, on time and without incident, and everything is going smoothly.

Only 41 more to go!