One of the busiest rail hubs on the UK network, Reading, was notorious over the years as a bottleneck blackspot. To address this, Network Rail has spent the past five years carrying out a programme of improvements that has seen the redevelopment of the station, redesign of the complex track layout and construction of a new maintenance, cleaning and storage depot.

The programme also paves the way for phased electrification of the Great Western mainline, beginning with the section that links it to the Crossrail network. It has been ambitious in scope, involving a variety of contractors working closely with Network Rail to ensure minimum disruption and continuity of passenger and freight services, while delivering enhanced capacity and efficiency.

An increase in the number of platforms at the station, track improvements and modifications to the local infrastructure to enable mainline services to travel on freight and relief lines have also futureproofed the Reading hub for further increases in passenger numbers. Meanwhile, track improvements will enable six additional freight trains to move through the area each day, moving goods equivalent to 200 lorries.

Collaborative approach

The new maintenance and cleaning depot at Reading is integral to the project’s ability to answer the need for both greater capacity and electrification on the Great Western line. However, phasing of this aspect of the works has involved a degree of pragmatism, involving construction of the depot to meet immediate cleaning, maintenance and storage needs, with electrification works following to fit in with the remainder of the programme.

The electrification works for the depot, were themselves, divided into two phases, with phase II delayed until modifications to the westbound tracks had been completed. Lundy Projects was appointed as principal contractor for this phase of works and brought in the electrification expertise of Spanish rail sector specialist, Electren, to complete all the SPS (Small Parts Steelwork), wiring, switching and bonding elements of the scheme.

Keith Riley from Lundy Projects explained: “We have been a principal contractor licensee to Network Rail since 2007 and we have proven expertise in electrification schemes. Our team delivered the foundations and main steelwork for the project, bringing in Electren’s experience of all aspects of electrification projects to complete the remainder under our management.

“While the project was only on site for nine weeks, the scheme is the result of more than a year of collaborative working between Lundy and Electren, ensuring that the partnership between the companies delivers a seamless approach, drawing on proven specialisms. Following the success of the Reading depot installation, we aim to continue our collaboration on further UK electrification projects.”

European experience

While the Reading depot scheme is the first for Electren in the UK, it draws upon the company’s considerable electrification experience across Europe, particularly its involvement in the electrification of the main high-speed, conventional and underground lines in Spain. Electren has also expanded into other markets, with extensive experience on the French and Polish networks and presence in North America (US and Canada).

As a result of the traction power substations works experience, mostly on Spanish high-speed lines, Electren is now involved in the Network Rail CP5 National Substation Supply Framework and is member of the Switchgear and Substation Alliance (SSA).

Electren’s approach is to ensure that the company’s expertise is delivered on the ground for every scheme by employing its own retained operatives, all of whom are certified to OLE 3 competency. This not only ensures complete accountability for both the principal contractor and Network Rail, but also means that the project did not have to draw on UK critical OLE resources.

Electren Workers on the Great Western railway, Reading.

The Electren project manager for the Reading depot scheme, Javier Inglesias, has delivered more than 30 electrification projects in four different countries. As a result, he was very adaptable to the specific needs of the programme and, while he had never before come across the Mark3B OLE technology used at Reading, his experience ensured that he was able to manage the scheme successfully and anticipate any potential problems.

Phased challenge

The phasing of the depot electrification works and the decision to appoint new contractors for Phase II created significant challenges for Electren in the planning of the works. The Electren team meticulously checked the design and cross-referenced the completed Phase I works against the design and BoQ (Bill of Quantities) that had been signed off by Network Rail for the whole project to ensure that mistakes and delays were avoided in the delivery of the Phase II works.

Electren’s contract responsible engineer on the Reading depot scheme, Santiago Varela, explained: “There was a single BoQ covering both phases of the scheme, so we had to cross-reference the materials that had been used for phase I to ensure we followed the correct specification for the phase II scheme.

“By compiling our own BoQ in this way before we started on site, our team could also ensure that any necessary design modifications were identified and approved in advance, enabling us to deliver the works to a clearly defined programme with no delays once the team was on site.”

The Electren site team varied between 10 and 14 operatives at any one time, with most of the works being carried out during daylight hours under ALO (Adjacent Line Open) conditions to enable the depot to operate as usual for maintenance and cleaning during the night.

Planning and site efficiency were critical to addressing these challenges and all of the SPS, along with some of the wiring, was pre-fabricated in the stores on site.

“Typically, we would arrive on site at 7am and pick up the materials for the day from the stores,” Santiago Varela continued. “During the two-week SPS works, all items for each day would have been prefabricated and checked the previous day ready for installation.”

Best practice

Through meticulous planning, collaborative working and an efficient approach to site delivery, the Phase II OLE works at Reading depot were completed two shifts ahead of schedule.

“Planning, teamwork and specialist skills were critical to the success of this project,” Keith Riley summarised. “Electren clearly demonstrated the value of the company’s European experience. Preassembled wiring for OLE mast installations may not be typical in the UK but it provided time and safety advantages on this scheme. We’re delighted to have been involved in bringing European best practice to the UK rail sector by working with Electren on this scheme.”