In March 2012, Amey was appointed by Network Rail to deliver a five year operate, maintain and deliver (OMD) contract to electrify the Great Western main line (GWML) using a new high output factory train to be provided by Network Rail.

This Amey contract forms part of the Great Western Route Modernisation programme to increase speed and capacity on this part of the railway network and is valued at approximately £20 million/year.

The GWML contract requires Amey to electrify from Maidenhead to Bristol Parkway, Oxford and Newbury by December 2016, then through the Severn Tunnel to Cardiff by December 2017, with a possible extension of electrification to Swansea by May 2018.

The Network Rail team responsible for developing the GWML electrification project has been determined to use the best and most modern equipment available to get the job done. To ensure this, a specification was developed over three years, based on current best practice in Europe. Through a competitive tender process, German plant manufacturers Windhoff were awarded the contract to design and build a suitable high output plant system (HOPS). Network Rail, Windhoff and Amey have since been involved in the final design details and commissioning of HOPS.

Purpose-built factory train

The £35million HOPS consists of 23 railway vehicles. It is a factory train, built in stages
by Windhoff and transported to this country over the last twelve months. In July, the final 13 vehicles reached the Rail Innovation & Development Centre at High Marnham for testing and commissioning.

The logistics associated with these arrivals have been significant. The Multi-Purpose Vehicles (MPVs) arrived by rail through the Channel Tunnel at Dollands Moor before being forwarded to High Marnham whereas the KFA wagons, which are refurbished Network Rail flatbed wagons used for carrying steel piles etc., came in by sea to Immingham and thence by road to High Marnham. With up to thirteen vehicles on site at any one time, the testing and commissioning facility has been operating at full capacity.

Whilst this influx of plant and equipment has been underway, Neil Johnson, Amey’s project director, has been responsible for recruiting, training and developing more than 150 staff for the project.

Expanding OLE expertise

Under the contract, Amey is required to ensure that there are enough skilled people to provide two train teams capable of covering six night shifts per week and associated maintenance and logistics operations. However, Amey is also charged with helping to develop an Overhead Line Electrification (OLE) skilled workforce for the future in the West Country. For Network Rail, this is a very important aspect of the contract.

For many recruits, their training has included visits to Windhoff’s works in Rheine, Germany, and to the nearby testing site at Bad Bentheim, for training and familiarisation. More comprehensive training, testing and commissioning has taken place at High Marnham. This extensive and varied development has given the team the opportunity to understand how the train works and to become competent in its operation and maintenance.

Training and testing activities for this stage are designed to take trainees with general OLE installation experience, develop their plant operating skills and provide detailed knowledge and understanding of the nuances of the new Series 1 OLE range.

HOPS Consists

Justin Davey, Amey’s principal project manager, explained that to accommodate the different stages of construction required to install an OLE system, HOPS has been designed as three distinct consists. Each is designed to address the particular construction requirements associated with the main elements of OLE.

The first consist is designed for foundation construction and includes:

» A piling sub-consist (1A) of five vehicles, designed to drive a minimum of 16,000 steel tube piles of varying depth and between 610mm to 762mm diameter;

» A concrete foundation sub-consist (1B) of five vehicles, required to construct approximately 2,000 foundations each one metre square by four metres deep.

The second consist is designed for the installation of the OLE structures and includes:

» A structures sub-consist (2A) of three vehicles, designed to install the main steelwork for 15,000 OLE structures;

» A small parts steelwork (SPS) and wiring sub-consist (2B) of five vehicles for installing SPS, including the unique Furrer + Frey single insulator cantilevers (SIC), the auto transformer feeder wire and the earth wire, and three further vehicles for installing contact and catenary wires.

The third consist (3) is designed for final works and for complex layouts, and includes two vehicles with wiring capability and platform.

The three-vehicle structures consist (2A) has now entered service on the GWML. At High Marnham, the 2A team erected, took down and re-erected (for additional practice), 54 OLE structures of varying sizes on the test construction site. These included 350mm x 350mm and 300mm x 500mm masts, twin- track cantilever booms, larger portal booms, and 14 baseplates and anchor struts in both compression and tension arrangements.

Innovative ground release shackle

The Amey team on consist 2A has introduced a unique method for erecting masts using a ground-release shackle.

Alternative methods are to use a manipulator mounted to the crane, or to use conventional slings, which would then require operatives in a MEWP working alongside the mast to release the slings after installation.

In contrast, Amey’s innovative approach uses a shackle that can be released quickly, simply and safely by the operative pulling a release line from a position on the ground. This allows fine control in the placement of the mast, negates the requirement for an access platform, reduces the overall risks associated with the activity, and allows for an operating cycle time that is compatible with the high output concept.

The operating methodology has been successfully demonstrated to the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) and to Network Rail and is now in use on the project.

Adjacent line open

Each consist is designed to transit at a speed of 60mph on open lines. Within a possession, consists may travel at up to 20mph. In working mode, within a possession, HOPS modules are restricted to a maximum speed of 3mph.

A key element of the HOPS specification was that operations would be enabled with the adjacent line open (ALO). This requirement has been tested and, following a rigorous hazard log process and series of stage gates, ALO operation has been approved. Initial trials were undertaken on 1A and subsequently on 2A. Piling and steelwork erection operations have now been authorised under ALO conditions without the requirement for a speed restriction on the adjacent line.

This is a significant achievement for the project, allowing train operations to continue at up to 125mph on the adjacent line whilst construction activities are underway. It’s good news for the project, for Network Rail, and for train operators.

Trials are now continuing in the Swindon area for the concrete foundations consist (1B). Work is underway with the manufacturer and project team to optimise the concrete batching process and to modify the excavation and spoil-handling vehicles to permit efficient and safe operation under ALO conditions.

HOPS 045

High Output Operating Base

The HOPS train will operate from the High Output Operations Base (HOOB), a £7 million facility recently constructed by Amey and located in the transfer sidings to the east of Swindon station. Maintenance and logistics teams have been recruited and trained to manage and operate the base full time. In addition, a 140,000 sq ft distribution centre has been acquired and developed nearby, designed to house six weeks’ worth of OLE materials and components required for the project.

After several months of production shifts with the piling train, the materials and logistics teams have now become well-practised in delivering the daily turnaround of reloading, shunting and preparing HOPS for production shifts. The maintenance team has also been making good use of the new facilities, having recently completed the first major annual maintenance on consist 1A.

So far, the design of the HOOB has proved to be successful and it is functioning effectively. However, the true test of the facility and team will come when all 23 vehicles are in service and need to be prepared and serviced for production shifts, six days a week.

Everything ready

By mid-October, all the HOPS consists will be based at the HOOB. To ensure efficient delivery of the construction programme, the daily process of preparing each working consist of HOPS must be a finely tuned logistics operation. Each vehicle will need to be unloaded, refuelled, maintained and restocked with materials, in the correct construction sequence, for the next shift.

Justin explained that, whilst the focus over the past few months has been the commissioning and final preparation of HOPS, everyone is acutely aware that the success of the project will depend heavily on the effective functioning of the planning, logistics, and design teams, and the materials supply chain. To deliver ‘high output’ electrification, every aspect of the programme needs to operate according to high output principles.

The team has been using lean methodologies to maximise what can be achieved in the working time available. This has involved examining and gathering data about all aspects of the operation. Improving and standardising set-up and handback activities has enabled the team to increase the productive time on site, while optimising the construction cycle has ensured the team gets more out of the time available. Ongoing data gathering has allowed these improvements to be quantified and tracked.

Further initiatives are underway to continuously improve the information available before the shift starts, to ensure that the supply of materials is optimised through the life of the project, and that the maintenance of HOPS and its associated equipment is always sound and efficient. So far, everything suggests that the team are totally focussed on ensuring that this will happen.