The remodelling of Reading station is one of the largest projects currently being undertaken by Network Rail. Previous articles in the rail engineer (issue 76 Feb 2011 – Caversham Road Bridge, issue 77 March 2011 – Station Area Resignalling and issue 78 April 2011 – New Station Design & Layout) gave an insight into the massive amount of work that was to come.
Now, nearly two years later, the station is in the middle of its transformation and for those who knew Reading station of old, it is barely recognisable. Only the old building that was once the main entrance remains, this having listed status and is currently the Three Guineas pub. All the rest has been swept away and the platforms are full of temporary canopies and new construction works. A site visit was arranged recently courtesy of Invensys Rail to see what is going on and to learn the plans for the next two years.
The story so far
Since early 2011, track alteration work has concentrated on the ex-Southern lines into what were platforms 4a and 4b, entered via a single lead junction. A further platform has been provided and a new approach bridge constructed so that double track and associated point work gives access to all three platforms (now numbered 4, 5 & 6) with the benefit of allowing in and out movements at the same time.
Those of us old enough to remember the old Reading Southern station might smile when we realise the new layout is now similar to the old. Who says things never go full circle!
The ‘Southern Tunnel’, which once linked the SR lines to the north side of the station and has been disused for many years, is being re- instated, with the track and most of the S&C work complete in readiness for commissioning in 2013.
The main through platforms are dominated by the construction of the new ‘Transfer Link’, a huge overbridge towards the western end of the station that will give access to all mainline platforms from both a new south side entrance and a new northern entrance adjacent to the existing multi storey car park. Stair, lift and escalator access to and from the bridge will meet all modern day statutory requirements as well as being big enough to accommodate waiting facilities and retail outlets.
The north side of the station, where the goods lines ran and the old powerbox and telephone buildings were sited, is unrecognisable with two new island platforms being constructed on the reclaimed land. These are almost complete and will be the new relief line platforms and loops when commissioned. Trains travelling towards the SR lines from the north and west will use these platforms and the reinstated tunnel, so avoiding conflicting movements across the GW main lines.
Another piece of work well underway is the new train care depot being built where sidings once stood on the north side to the west of the station, more of which later.
A model of co-operation
With much past criticism as to how Railtrack and Network Rail handled projects in the past and a damning indictment on cost control in the McNulty report, it would seem that important lessons have been learned. Reading is seen as a ‘Breakthrough Project’ where client and contractors work as a single team. There is a single project site office – at 80 Caversham Road – using premises vacated by Royal Mail. Whilst the Network Rail team is based here, all except one of the main contractors also have a senior team in the same building with many of them also undertaking detailed design work from within the premises. To complete the line up, First Great Western have a presence in the building so as to plan and agree the impact on train services as the various work stages take place.
By mutual agreement, there is avoidance of duplication by having a shared responsibility for construction engineers, planning engineers and other on-site responsibilities. This has enabled much greater integration and collaboration with any emerging problems being resolved by a quick meeting of minds on site. As such, the project is running around one year early.
The biggest change will happen at Easter 2013. As well as commissioning the new Transfer Link and the opening of both the new north and southern entrances, major trackwork and associated signalling will be taking place. However before the actual weekend, the existing link span bridge from the eastern concourse to all platforms and the car park has to be taken down as its support pillars affect the signal sighting from the new north side platforms. This removal will take place in March but, to allow travellers to access the island platforms, the old passenger subway, which was closed off a few years ago, is to be temporarily re-opened. Suitable work to make this safe for use is underway.
The Easter work will involve a four day partial blockade and a further six day limited blockade. Services will cease at midnight on the 28 March to allow changes to the east end junctions to begin. By Good Friday morning, platform 2 will re-open to allow terminating trains from the Basingstoke and Newbury directions to use the station, along with platforms 4 and 5 for the Southern services to Waterloo and Gatwick. Over the next four days, the main GW route will see the fast lines closed ready for slewing into the position of the present relief lines. These in turn will be moved over to the new platforms 12 to 15. The civil engineering teams will work alongside the signal engineers who have to equip the new trackwork with axle counters, commission the new LED (Dorman) signals and 43 new point ends powered by in-bearer clamplocks.
All the altered signalling has to be controlled from the Thames Valley Signalling Centre at Didcot where the WESTLOCK interlockings and IECC displays will be updated with the data for the changed layout. The data preparation work is being done by the Invensys design team and is underway already. Testing the signalling will be firstly done by simulation of the layout followed by a full functional test during the blockade period. During this time, the Bristol and South Wales service will be diverted via Banbury, something that has been tried and tested during previous blockades. West of England services will be diverted to Waterloo.
By the morning of Tuesday 2nd April, the relief lines and loops using the new platforms 12-15 will be brought into use, thus allowing a limited through service to re-commence. The Reading West curve will also be re-opened to allow important freight traffic to resume from the Midlands to Southampton Docks.
The remaining limited blockade period will see the up and down main lines towards Bristol slewed into their new position either side of the island platform numbers 8 and 9. They will also be repositioned on the west approach to the station to make room for building the viaduct that will eventually grade separate these lines from those going south towards Newbury and Basingstoke.
The following weekend will see a further closure of all the through lines to enable the remaining point work and signalling to be connected and tested, with all lines re- opening on Monday 8th April. For the next two years, there will be a speed restriction of 50mph on the main lines and 40mph on the relief and, although this sounds draconian, in practice it does not seriously restrict operations since most trains stop at Reading. The new points are being designed for 50mph turnouts and with the limited line speeds, it is not considered necessary to provide approach control on the main line signals.
Fulfillment of the project
With the station remodelling essentially complete, work can start in earnest to construct the flyover viaduct to the west of the station, which is scheduled for commissioning at Christmas 2014. Some preliminary work has already commenced with the closure earlier in 2012 of Cow Lane bridge, a narrow road under the main lines on the north side of the western triangle, which the Local Authority was anxious to see widened so as to route more traffic away from Caversham Road. The replacement bridge will open in 2014.
The existing down fast platform (was 5 now 7) will be widened to about where the existing through line is located and this will be used for trains going towards the west of England. The current eastern concourse and ticket barrier will remain but will only give access to platform 7 and the Southern route
The new train care depot will open in July 2013, followed shortly by the transfer of train servicing activities. The depot will have its own signalling system provided by Invensys using their proprietary WESTCAD and WESTRACE products. These are ideal for depot-type operation and still give SIL4 safety assurance. The old train maintenance buildings in the triangle of land west of the station will then be demolished to prepare for a complete re-alignment of the lines from Reading West so that London-bound trains can be routed to the north side of the station without interfering with the main Bristol route. It is planned to have the Oxford Road junction (south side of triangle) remodelled during Christmas 2013 and the relief line approaches brought into use during Easter 2015 with final functionality achieved in August 2015.
Electrification of the GW main line will be carried out in parallel to the Reading re- modelling and overhead line stanchions will be erected where it is sensible to do this as part of the station rebuild work. As a Network Rail spokesman said: “It was felt that the work should go on at the same time and as part of the same project to avoid having to do it all again later!”
Lundy Projects was already on site, installing signalling gantries, and they have been tasked with installing the electrification structures as well. The new depot is already visibly equipped with 25kV overhead equipment. Switch-on of the overhead lines for testing purposes will take place in 2016, so the wiring will be installed during the final phases of the station and track alteration work. The ‘Southern Tunnel’ is expected to have the 25kV system installed into a short section of 3rd rail 750V DC territory to enable dual voltage traction units to access the ex-Southern lines.
The remaining upgrade is the declared intention to equip the GW route with ERTMS signalling. The WESTLOCK equipment is already ETCS compatible, which is a help, but much more design work on the ERTMS ‘package’ will be needed before firm contracts can be placed. Key to success will be resolving the data handling limitations of GSM-R as busy traffic areas such as Reading are likely to remain as conventional signalling under the current ERTMS mode of operation.
Benefit and cost
Reading has been an operational bottleneck for years and many trains get stopped outside the station waiting for a spare platform. All this will be a thing of the past and the new station and layout will also give a valuable capacity increase for any future growth.
Undertaking a major project like this is not cheap: the Reading scheme is budgeted at £895 million excluding the provision of the Thames Valley CC but including the electrification. The improved management practices should enable the final spend to be less than this, thus giving a role model for other large projects planned for elsewhere