Forget HS2. The next big set of railway projects in the UK will be the mass electrification of the Great Western, the Midland Main Line, the Welsh valleys, a major freight route running north from Southampton and large portions of the North West.

The first high-output electrification train is under construction in Germany, and Network Rail is already planning how it will deliver the various projects. In order to share these plans with the industry, and to discus the challenges they will produce, a conference was held recently at Westwood in Coventry, and the rail engineer was invited to attend.

Phil Bennett, finance and commercial director for the Southern Region, welcomed the 120 delegates and explained that the purpose of the conference was to have early engagement with the supply chain. It is critical for Network Rail that suppliers share the challenge, understand the commitments and identify opportunities and actions that need addressing in advance of CP5.

Safety first

As always, safety comes first, and Rob Sherrin presented an update on the National Isolation Review. Rob talked about accidents and incidents around electrification and how Network Rail is making a major step change in behavioural improvements.

Delegates were then shown a video which featured Network Rail plant and distribution technician Kieren Brown. Kieren was involved in a very serious accident in July 2009 and is now using that experience to help promote good working practice around electrical equipment. His full story appears in Network Rail’s Aspects magazine for July/August 2012.

Network Rail has undertaken several other safety initiatives. It has engaged with the ORR, and a workshop has been held around strategic design changes that can be applied to achieve safer working on the AC network. Trials of a new capacitive live line indicator and a localised earthing device are underway.

Rob summarised by saying that the aim is to reduce the unacceptable number of electrical-related injuries in the industry through gaining stakeholder alignment across the whole of Network Rail, the contracting community and the safety enforcement organisations. Currently, there are over 80,000 workers who hold a competence around either AC/DC work on the Sentinel record scheme and these need to be encouraged to always have a valid permit to work where required, always test before applying earths and never assume equipment is isolated but always test before touching.

An overview

Nick Elliott, Southern regional director, gave an overview of the newly formed Infrastructure Projects business which is divided into four regions. Nick is taking the lead on electrification, so he went on to talk about the challenges of CP5 when Network Rail will move from electrifying 20km of track per annum to in excess of 1000km per annum – no easy task.

Currently, Network Rail is working on the North West Electrification programme as well as Maidenhead to Cardiff on the Great Western. In 2013 the Welsh valley lines, the Midland Main Line, and Basingstoke to Reading will be added and the DC to AC conversion between Poole and Basingstoke will take place.

However, by the time CP5 starts in April 2014, the work load becomes even greater as TransPennine Electrification will commence, the Cardiff to Swansea element of the Great Western main Line comes into effect and the Oxford to Coventry/Nuneaton and the Gospel Oak to Barking work starts. By this time there will be 11 major electrification projects running at the same time.

Yet more work will start in 2016 – the remaining part of the Electric Spine between Oxford Bletchley and Bedford will commence, as well as Hope Valley between Sheffield and Mansfield. 2016 will be the boom year for electrification across the whole network.

As well as new electrification projects, there will be a lot of improvements and renewals to existing installations. This will include replacing catenary, renewing contact wires and electrifying neutral sections. There will be OLE structure renewals, DC cable replacement, HV cable refurbishment and new air-insulated vacuum switchgear. At the same time, unit costs need to be reduced down by 20-30% as part of the general efficiency drive on the railways, so innovation will be required to achieve all this whilst having limited access to track.

In Nick’s own Southern region, he will be responsible for installing new switchgear, rectifiers and transformers as part of the Southern power supply – a project worth £450 million. The 1950’s OLE will be replaced by modern, tensioned electrified lines in the Great Eastern area (£100 million), the Gospel Oak to Barking freight link will be electrified (£50 million), the current DC system to 25kV overhead Line between Basingstoke, Southampton and Poole (£150 million) and there will be an upgrade to some systems as part of a national SCADA programme (£80 million).

Go West

Lindsay Vamplew, fresh from the successful delivery of the rebuilt Blackfriars station, is now electrification project director for Wales and the West. With EMUs due to run between Newbury and Oxford in December 2016, IEP also coming in between London Paddington and Bristol at the same time, and then on to Cardiff one year later, he has his work cut out.

A plan is being developed around working in 7 to 8 hour possessions between Sunday and Thursday, with longer 8-10 hour possessions on Fridays and Saturdays. Each evening, the team will normally take three two-mile possessions on one line – the adjacent line will still operate at 20-60 miles per hour. Approximately 80% of the work will be carried out using high-output processes, while the remaining 20% will be delivered by more traditional methods. An immense amount of work will need to be done with 13,784 piles, 1,427 concrete foundations and 13,078 structures all on the “to do” list.

Contracts have already been awarded for power supplies at Didcot, Melksham and Imperial Park. Design and delivery of the high output system has been awarded to Windhoff and a contract for its operation and maintenance and programme delivery has been won by Amey. Initial system designs will be by Furrer + Frey.

Work currently underway includes the design and build of the HOOB (high output operations base) near Swindon, which is due to be completed by March 2013.

The bit in the middle

Plans for the Midlands and the North were next on the agenda. Ellen Wintle spoke about power supply requirements for the West Coast Main Line. Contracts for new power supplies for phase 3A, between North Wembley and Whitmore (south of Crewe) have been awarded, and tenders are in for phase 3B (Whitmore to Great Strickland near Penrith). This latter includes some 240km of 25kV auto transformer feeder, 120km of return screening conductor, 11 new 25kV distribution sites and modification to several existing ones, removal of 100 booster transformers and recovery of redundant 25kV equipment.

The remaining CP4 renewals work on the North West DC network includes substation and switchgear renewals and new protection relays, with further substation and switchgear renewals, signalling distribution renewals and OLE refurbishment on the slow lines being carried over to CP5.

Mark Royle took up the electrification story in the North West and described how the work was being delivered in five phases. Phase 1, from Manchester to Newton-Le-Willows, will be completed by December 2013 and phase 2, from Newton-Le-Willows to Liverpool and from Huyton to Wigan, is out for tender as a single multi-disciplined package for delivery by December 2014. To be delivered during CP5 are phase 3 – Preston to Blackpool North, Phase 4 – Manchester Victoria to Euxton Junction and Phase 5 – Manchester Victoria to Stalybridge.

Shahin Ali was the final presenter for the Central region with a look at the Midland Main Line. Confirmed in the recent HLOS statement, the line will be electrified between Bedford and Sheffield via Derby with a spur to Corby from Kettering and another to Nottingham from Trent Junction. The existing OLE equipment between Bedford and Borehamwood will be converted to Auto Transformer Feeder (ATF).

Included in the workload are structure clearances at 115 separate locations and parapet works at 100 overbridges. Two new National Grid supply points will be required and will be installed at Ratcliffe on Soar and at either Bray Brooke or Irchester. There will be 17 new distribution switchgear/ transformer sites, in the region of 10,000 OLE support structures and around 530 single track kilometres of wiring.

The structure clearances already mentioned comprise 57 bridge reconstructions, 33 track lowers using conventional means and a further 13 using MOBC (medium output ballast cleaners), 11 bridge jackings and one bridge slide.

Some of the work will be quite complex. Bridges at both ends of Leicester Station need greater clearances, yet both have a shopping complex on top of them. A similar bridge at Nottingham Station is under the station building itself. Lowering King Street bridge at Belper will require major reconstruction of the station next to it, and Toadmoor Tunnel is a listed structure with a restrictive profile and an invert that will be difficult to lower.

And finally – the North

Andy Wilson was the final presenter of the morning on the Northern and Scottish Region. Andy talked about Paisley Canal, the East Coast Power Upgrade phase 1 and 2 and TransPennine electrification.

The Paisley Canal scheme is currently being designed and constructed by Babcock in an £11 million scheme due for delivery this year. To allow for a quick delivery, clearances will allow only the current trains to use the line, rather than any UK rolling stock. Adopting this special reduced OLE clearance removed the need to modify three structures, reducing both cost and time.

The TransPennine Electrification Project, on the other hand, has 297 bridges along the route from Stalybridge and Colton/Selby. Of these, two will need to be removed, 40 reconstructed, 20 have the track lowered through them, and 31 will need the parapets to be modified. A lot of work.

Andy also mentioned EGIP – the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme, but as funding was recently cut by the Scottish Government that has all gone back to the planning stage.

Two power supply projects are underway though. Phase one is to improve the traction power supply between Wood Green (north London) and Bawtry (near Doncaster) – a distance of 230 kilometres. 600km of autotransformer feeder and 20 new autotransformer sites will replace 300 booster transformers with a corresponding reduction in the number of DNO (distribution network operator) supply points.

Phase two extends that traction power enhancement another 374 kilometres from Bawtry north to Longniddry near Edinburgh. Once again autotransformer and sectioning sites with their associated switchgear buildings will be constructed, and the old booster transformers removed.

What a programme

At the end of these presentations, delegates were struggling to come to terms with the sheer scale of the programme they had just had outlined. Gearing up the industry will no doubt present opportunities for both training and labour supply companies, not to mention all the civils and electrification work that will take place to deliver what is so glibly called “the electrification programme”.

Electrification is a subject that will run for years to come. The December issue of the rail engineer will be looking at the subject in more detail in an Electrification Focus, with reports on some of the projects and some of the equipment being used. Make sure that you get hold of a copy.