Nottingham station is undergoing a traumatic experience – it’s shut! Well, it was between 20 July and 25 August. A fleet of buses took passengers to East Midlands Parkway and other nearby stations while engineers realigned most of the track at both ends of the station, installed a new platform, removed a through line, moved signalling control to Derby and did a host of other, smaller modifications.

The plans were described in detail only last month but, with such a major piece of work going on, The Rail Engineer couldn’t stay away. So it was off to Mansfield Junction, just west of Nottingham station, to see how things were progressing.

Two weeks gone – four to go

Roughly two weeks into the Nottingham blockade and not only was David Horne, managing director of East Midlands Trains (EMT), present to see the work for himself, he was smiling. That was good to see as it meant that things were going well. David’s discussions with Network Rail’s senior project manager Dave South were also relaxed and amiable – another good sign.

Unsurprisingly, since the relationship between the senior representatives of the two key organisations involved in the project was clearly so good, everything seemed to be going to plan. The interlocking in the East Midlands Control Centre at Derby, which was to be up and running at the end of the first weekend, had gone in without delay. As a result, train services as far as Beeston had resumed as planned on Monday morning, 22 July. This arrangement also permitted the running into site from the west of some of the 96 vital engineering trains needed by the works.

At the other side of Nottingham station, the service to and from the East, by means of pilot working from Rectory Junction to Nottingham and back, was brought into use for a week. It was stopped again by the second weekend of the blockade, to resume on 10 August. This was all as planned from the outset.

The renewal of Nottingham West Junction was virtually completed. Mansfield Junction, commenced on 29 July, was well on the way. Nottingham East Junction remodelling had started, and the base for the new bay Platform 4 in the station had been laid in.

The other major items completed were the renewal of both Carlton and Colwick level crossings and the permanent closure of Sneinton.

The long and short of it

Andy Willetts was on site in his role as Network Rail’s project track asset engineer and was able to give some more details about the S&C being installed by the project. One set of switches had already been laid in at Mansfield Junction. These are exceptional for the project, being F switches, whilst almost all of the 42 other sets of new switches will be Ev. The reason for these particularly long switches here is the improvement of the line speed that is being achieved at the junction and around the curve up onto the Mansfield line. The turnout speed will be 50mph, and this will continue around the curve, whereas the previous speed was only 30mph.

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The other exceptions to the general use of Ev switches will be in the station area itself. Here the speeds will necessarily be low and long switches would be an unnecessary and space wasting feature, so C switches have been specified. In one location, even those are too long to fit the available space, and so special derogation from Network Rail standards has been obtained, allowing Bv switches in that case. Andy advised that all of the crossings being installed are welded-in cast ones, and all have been explosive hardened to ensure a long service life.

Track design was by URS in Birmingham, and the extensive computer modelling of layouts which was undertaken to prove the efficacy of the selected scheme was by Network Rail’s in-house “CAT” team. The S&C components were manufactured, built up and supplied by a mix of all three major track manufacturers. The layouts are all modular, delivered to site on Network Rail’s tilting wagons.

The question of the need (or otherwise) of such a long closure of Nottingham station was inevitably raised once more. Dave and David did a good job of explaining the necessity, and it was all the more convincing that the explanation came from the train operator as well as the project team. The key issues were the very fragile state of the Reed FDM signalling system controlled by Trent Power Box, and the need to lay the new junctions more or less directly back where the old S&C was. The former meant that piecemeal track and signalling renewals were impracticable. The latter meant that new junctions could not be laid in before the old ones were removed and left clipped out of use until the resignalling ‘caught up’.

In conclusion, it was great to see the progress that had been made, and that the Network Rail/EMT collaboration over this scheme, which goes back to its very early days in 2007, was still as strong as ever two weeks into the works.

Remember the passengers

Finally, a little about the practical arrangements for passengers during the station closure. The site visit to Mansfield Junction started at Beeston, so the logical method of transport was by ‘bus replacement’ from Station Street, Nottingham. The organisation was impressive and there were clear signs up everywhere giving the numbers of the bus stops and the destinations served from them. Digital displays were also in evidence, presumably ‘borrowed’ from the platforms of the closed station. As in normal use, some were dedicated to a particular stop, giving departure times for the various services from there. Others showed the larger picture, displaying the next service to each principal destination and the number of the stop it would depart from. Very like a real station in fact.

EMT and other operators had staff around on the stops to assist people who couldn’t manage by their own initiative, and there were lots of timetable brochures to hand for those needing them. EMT had even provided branded umbrellas for temporary use in the event of rain (very necessary a few days earlier when there had been torrential thunderstorms) and bottles of mineral water were freely available (more appropriate to the current hot weather at the time of the visit).

The Beeston bus was already on the stand 15 minutes before it was due away, and would have left on time had the staff not decided, very helpfully, to wait for a woman who needed to buy a ticket before boarding.

The minor delay didn’t trouble the rest of the passengers, and saved the woman a wait in the heat.

The return journey was uneventful too, the facilities provided at the bus stop at Beeston being quite as good relative to the need. Overall, it would seem that all concerned have done their very best to make the best of the situation.