Positioned on the boundary of Zones 1 and 2, Earls Court is one of the busiest stations on the London Underground network. For the second Christmas running it played host to an army of orange workers delivering essential works to replace life expired assets through this busy station.
Following a successful delivery programme over Christmas 2013 (issue 112, February 2014), Track Partnership, a strategic alliance between London Underground and Balfour Beatty Rail, returned
to the station to deliver a six-day closure to replace the track and ballast through one platform (Platform 3), install four points and crossing (P&C) units and 474 metres of plain line track (including areas of slab track), and renew two subways.
The planned closure of the District line, which started at close of traffic Christmas Eve, ran all the way though to start of traffic on New Year’s Eve when the line re-opened to run a 24-hour service to carry revellers in and out of London.
Delivered accident-free, with no major incidents, the possession was handed back two hours and fifty-five minutes early, clocking up a 155% increase in track renewals delivered versus the previous year’s closure over the same timescale.
Track Partnership’s Andy Titterton-Fox, project manager for points and crossings, puts the success of the project and the increase in output down to the level of planning and detail now being put into every single project – a move which has clearly paid off.
Planning started just after Easter 2014. A dedicated team held weekly meetings with all key stakeholders – signalling, power, plant and contractors. This ensured that design, engineering, assurance and construction milestones were instilled into the team at the earliest stage to ensure readiness and preparation continued right up until the works were underway and beyond.
As part of the programming of the works, a daily two-hour ‘float’ was built into the schedule to continually re-baseline delivery – this buffer would absorb any potential delays should they arise. In essence, this process of continued review ensured the entire project stayed on-track for completion.
Keeping London moving
One of the key challenges the Track Partnership team faced was keeping London moving through the works. To keep disruption to a minimum, the Piccadilly Line remained open throughout the closure with only Platforms three and four out of commission.
In order for the Piccadilly line to remain open, a physical barrier was erected to separate the general public from works. Six feet high, and running the length of Platform two, it provided a safe, soundproofed method of segregation, allowing passengers to move freely and safely around the station.
There was no greater demonstration of the success of this than on Boxing Day when a horde of Chelsea and West Ham football supporters swamped the station on their way to and from the local derby match.
An invisible workforce
Importantly, there were no complaints from residents living in the nearby vicinity. Indeed, the overall station public / workforce segregation was commended by the general station manager. Praising the Track Partnership team, he pointed out that there had been no complaints from passengers, that the passenger / workforce interface ran as smoothly as it could have done, and that no-one in the station was really aware of any works going on, such was the lack of intrusion or disturbance.
Conveniently, this ‘invisible workforce’ accessed and egressed the site via a substation adjacent to Earl’s Court Underground, so there was no need for them to even enter the station complex itself. This was just as well, given that some 150 Track Partnership staff were on-site during any one shift, three shifts a day, around the clock for the six days.
To aid staff welfare throughout the project, a ‘pop-up site village’ was erected with a fully-staffed canteen providing much needed hot food and drink for the duration, including a hearty meal on Christmas Day – roast turkey with all the trimmings, of course – and a Christmas tree to bring a bit of festive cheer.
Focus on innovation
With so many people on-site at any given time, accurate, high quality and consistent briefings were essential. For the first time for Track Partnership, site access briefings were introduced via a video system at each of the three site entry points, which proved highly successful.
Another innovative planning detail was manifest in the works man- machine interface, where exclusion zones were clearly defined and lollipop- fashion ‘DO NOT ENTER’ signs positioned around each road-rail vehicle at a distance determined by the machine controller at his discretion. When the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) visited during the works, this method was deemed ‘a step in the right direction’ and a great improvement on the traditional method of marking exclusion zones to a set distance, site-wide.
Another first for Track Partnership was the installation of 36 time-saving and practical hollow, cable-protection sleepers across the site. Signalling and power cabling are now housed inside the sleepers as opposed to being installed in the ballast or running alongside the line, where the risk of potential damage is much greater.
One of the project milestones was ensuring ‘Wheels Free’ was achieved on time to allow for the signalling team to re-commission and test, a major contributing factor to the almost three-hours early hand over.
Working in a shoe box…
Andy Titterton-Fox compared working on the LUL infrastructure to “working in a shoe box”: the complex confines of the site such as tight spaces and steep gradients presented particular challenges to the replacement of the four P&C units. There was no space for large rail cranes so the units were delivered as loose bearers and rails by engineering train and installed using road rail excavators.
One of the P&C units that had to be replaced (number 27) presented its own unique challenge. Due to the Victorian design of the alignment and geometry, the soffit level of the location meant that the rear of the switch panel (over an equivalent length of 4 bearers) was fixed directly onto a high pressure Thames Water sewage main.
This challenge impacted upon the setting out and installation of the works which were completed with the use of 3D GPS controlled dozing of the track either side of the culvert to ensure tolerances were achieved. Over the culvert, direct-fix Delkor Egg base plates were used to secure the iron work. These are highly-resilient rail fasteners consisting of a top plate and base frame which are durably vulcanised together by means of a natural rubber collar, resulting in a low static stiffness while ensuring a high degree of rail stability and high vibration and noise attenuation.
The track was installed to the required alignment and position and will enable smooth running for generations to come.
Co-operation and integration
The Track Partnership’s Ruislip Depot in West London – manned 24/7 – was responsible for the continual loading and unloading of the 33 TransPlant trains required throughout the project. Eleven physical trains, recycled three times, delivered ballast and other materials to site, returning to the depot to offload spoil. Recycling TransPlant trains on Christmas Day involving multi-discipline co-operation and this integration was another first for the team.
The assistance of the various sub-contractors was critical to the success of these projects. Engineering train support was supplied by TransPlant, large plant by Balfour Beatty Rail Plant and temporary power, lighting and small tools by Torrent Trackside. Kilnbridge undertook the subway major civils works.
Running in parallel to the Earls Court project were drainage projects at Sloane Square and West Brompton stations, carried out by Track Partnership’s drainage team, as well as in excess of 400 metres of deep tube re-railing works involving the London Underground Track Delivery Unit. The Victoria Station Upgrade Team was also busy, installing a new box- section subway and sewer. Key members from these teams attended the four-hourly meetings and conference calls, so that they were always kept informed and updated.
Andy described all of the disciplines coming together was “like a well-oiled machine”. Indeed, there were no real unforeseen issues or challenges – the team was even able to carry out an additional 74-metres of re-rail originally scheduled for a January mid-week renewal.
John Hardy, head of track programme for London Underground, summed up the Earls Court project: “This has been our most operationally successful closure to date. During the six days on site we delivered the full scope of the project, more than ever before, with no accidents or damage incidents and no complaints from the public.”
As Andy Titterton-Fox added: “We are transforming a Victorian infrastructure that keeps four million people moving every day. Delivering this scale of work in the constraints of the LUL network continually provides new challenges and opportunities. It’s a credit to the team that we overcame each one and delivered great infrastructure for London to keep on moving for generations to come.”