When looking at railway projects, it is all too easy to focus purely on the big ones. The iconic bridges, the glorious Victorian main line stations, the railway wending its way across splendid scenery.

To be honest, The Rail Engineer is probably as guilty of this as anyone. Major projects involve a lot of contractors, subcontractors, machinery and money. Large-scale works are also more photogenic and allow for visually more interesting articles.

But there are 2,500 stations on the UK network. And several major programmes to upgrade many of them. Although many projects are small, under a million pounds in cost, they still need significant planning and creative thinking – especially as the stations often have to remain open throughout the work.

These projects need specialist contractors. Not necessarily ones that only undertake smaller contracts, but ones that have the right mindset to undertake the variety of work, the tight timescales, the uncertainty of working on older buildings, and the determination to get each one completed on time – if only so they can move on to the next job.

Over the past five years, multi-disciplinary contractor Buckingham Group Contracting has successfully delivered numerous projects to improve passenger facilities at railway stations throughout the UK. Many of these have been under national programmes. The company Image 3 [online]has improved ticket offices, car parks and restrooms under the National Station Improvement Programme (NSIP), installed Equalities Act compliant footbridges, passenger lifts and access ramps under the Access for All (AFA) scheme, and constructed platform extensions and car parks for Capacity Enhancement programmes.

All of these projects share the common theme of being undertaken within live environments where the protection of the operational railway, rail staff and passengers is critical. Buckingham had to integrate its demolition, deconstruction, civil engineering, building and rail engineering skills into a single team to achieve the level of flexibility required to meet the various challenges.

At the same time, the projects had to be delivered within Network Rail’s Sustainable Procurement Pledge plus similar sustainable development plans and promises made by other rail clients. This meant not only being concerned about safety and welfare, and protecting railway and local heritage, but also recruiting staff locally and designing, building and delivering station buildings that are energy efficient with the highest BREEAM Rating that can be achieved.

A look at a few recent projects shows the variety of challenges involved.

Stratford Parkway station

Working in partnership with Mott MacDonald and client Warwickshire County Council, the design and build of the £3 million Stratford Parkway station was completed in May 2013. It was delivered as part of the Stratford Local Sustainable Transport Project, which is being promoted, funded and delivered by the Authority.

The new station comprises two platforms, each capable of accommodating six-car train sets, along with platform shelters, lighting, CCTV and ticketing facilities/machines. Equalities Act-compliant access was essential, and a new vehicle access road/station forecourt area included bus stops, set-down and drop-off areas along with a taxi rank and car, motorbike and cycle parking.

Salford Crescent station

Salford Crescent station occupies a strategic location between Windsor Bridge North and Windsor Bridge South and thus carries traffic from both Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria stations. As well as experiencing a high volume of students from the surrounding university, the station is also used as an interchange between adjacent routes.

Plans were drawn up to open out the station platform and remove the existing overcrowding problems by relocating the ticket office and extending the platforms to give passengers more room to move around. These called for the demolition of the existing platform building, canopy and access ramp, a new overbridge with significant piled foundations to facilitate the construction of a new ticket office at street level providing a more prominent station frontage and improved staff facilities, and the construction of a wide footbridge linking the ticket office to the platform which would itself be lengthened in both directions.

It was originally planned to close the station completely for three months while this work was carried out. However, working with design partner Atkins and in close collaboration with Network Rail and train operator Northern Rail, Buckingham developed a programme and possessions schedule which minimised disruption whilst allowing the station to remain operational for all but bridge lifts and demolition works.

The reconstruction work was completed in November.

Wakefield Westgate ‘Gateway’ station

Buckingham Group, in partnership with Architects CJCT and designers Amey Consulting, were responsible for the conceptual design, detailed design, and construction of the new £7.5 million Wakefield Westgate station building (above) for Network Rail and East Coast Mainline. The overall aim was to deliver a modern, sustainable, and fully accessible station facility incorporating high quality passenger amenities, complemented by large public realm areas that create an aesthetically pleasing and safe external environment for all station users and visitors.

The work involved constructing the station building, an Equalities Act compliant over-line footbridge, and a modern transport interchange facilitated by the provision of a functioning forecourt with short stay parking and a taxi drop off area.Image 2 [online]

The station building was handed over on 13 December 2013 while recently-instructed platform works are due for completion early this year. The project’s sustainability targets of achieving BREEAM Excellent and Very Good Considerate Constructors scores were achieved by a range of measures including rainwater harvesting, installing photovoltaic cells and re-using of site-won recycled aggregates.

More to come

In addition to these projects, Buckingham Group is currently undertaking the redevelopment of Llandudno station, which is within the town’s Victorian Town Conservation Area and therefore requires careful and considerate material selection to ensure building regulations and heritage issues were carefully considered at each stage of the development.

At the same time, the company is also constructing the new Northampton ‘Gateway’ station alongside the existing one which will be demolished once the new station is complete. The team is working under an archaeological watching brief to preserve the site of Northampton Castle.

With regards to sustainability the same team at Buckingham recently delivered the design and construction of Network Rail’s new National Distribution Centre at Ryton, on behalf of developer Prologis. The completed building achieved Planet Mark Property Development Certification through a carbon negative status, thanks to 110% of the unavoidable emissions being compensated for by protecting endangered rainforest.

Most of the above are projects that are not in the public eye, apart from in the local area, but they are all part of the rich variety of work that Network Rail and its contractors such as Buckingham Group have to tackle every day. Perhaps we should look at them more often.