Everyone knows that rail travel is one of Britain’s success stories. Trains are bursting at the seams, particularly in the South East during rush hour, and both operators and infrastructure owners are working hard to increase capacity by running more-frequent higher-capacity trains.

This is true both of national rail commuter services and London Underground. The Tube is moving more people than ever. On Friday 4 December last year, a record 4.821 million customers travelled on the Underground network – the busiest day in London Underground’s history. And demand continues to rise. As a result, engineering teams are working harder than ever to renew the asset base and modernise services which are so critical to keep London moving and growing.

Over the holidays, experienced teams from across London Underground were hard at work delivering a significant programme of rail modernisation. Taking advantage of lower traffic and customer levels, a part-closure of the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines was implemented in order to carry out a record 24,000 hours of upgrade work.

Working together

For some time, the key to delivering a complex project successfully has been collaboration. Rail Engineer has reported on several of these arrangements, at Birmingham New Street station, Hitchin viaduct (the Hitchin Alliance) and the work around Norton Bridge Junction and Stafford (Staffordshire Alliance).

But this year, collaboration was taken one step further as, at Paddington, London Underground teams worked side-by- side with colleagues at Network Rail. This collaboration was a first for LU and more work was completed in a much shorter space of time, ensuring minimum disruption to customers.

LU had planned to renew two platforms at Paddington tube station in 2010. However, it wasn’t able to complete the work within a traditional weekend renewal possession, due to challenges with single line working Ballast Track Renewals (BTRs). Without a service road for the BTR, single line working proved difficult, making a standard weekend closure an impossibility. It wasn’t until Christmas 2015 that the perfect opportunity was presented for the platform renewals to take place by working with Network Rail.

Collaboration was key. Over the year preceding the project, delivery teams from LU and Network Rail held regular monthly meetings to ensure a successful delivery of the platform and ballast track renewal work.

It was proposed that Track Partnership, itself a collaboration between London Underground and Balfour Beatty, would service the BTR of platform 15 using National Supply Chain engineering trains provided by Network Rail. Meanwhile, Network Rail would carry out its planned renewal of nearby platform 14 using LU’s transplant engineering fleet. By sharing resources and running the renewal works alongside one another, LU and Network Rail could hit two birds with one stone.

With another track renewal taking place across London at King’s Cross, it was essential that LU shared assets with Network Rail. A year’s worth of planning ensured that contractual arrangements were in place between the two.

After the planning…

LU’s possession commenced at 02:00 on Christmas Day. LU then worked on the 314 metre long BTR of Platform 15 until 07:00 on 27 December, when the track was handed over to Network Rail. Network Rail then serviced its BTR and switches and crossings (S&Cs) work from platform 15 until 07:00 on 29 December. From 29 December, work continued on both until the start of traffic on New Year’s Eve.

3. NR removing redundant track using LU Engineering Trains [online]

Breaking out the platform foundations proved a major challenge; using additional road-rail vehicles added between two and four hours to the removal time. Though LU was able to obtain core samples of the old platform foundations, engineers were still unsure how the platform would break, which could have risked a delay to handing over platform 15 to Network Rail on time.

While this work was underway, LU also connected the Heathrow Express service bonding location and fourth rail system to the Network Rail overhead line equipment, which will reduce the risk of interference and touch potential developing between the lines.

With Network Rail realigning its track, the Heathrow Express was moved closer to LU – a difficult process requiring an all-line block of Network Rail at Paddington and a possession of LU platforms 15 and 16. The LU delivery team also loaded the check rail sleepers at Cemex’s yard in Birmingham onto the Network Rail wagons, and the team travelled to Birmingham, Bristol and Oxford to ensure that they arrived in the correct train consist on site.

Because the possession limits provided a limited space between Paddington and Praed Street Junction (with street traffic running only 120 metres away), it was crucial that engineering trains didn’t crowd the space. To ensure there was enough space, and to prevent any knock-on effect on traffic hours service, one train was allowed through during the tamping of platform 15.


Throughout the project, the car park and welfare facilities were shared, spreading the cost between Network Rail and LU – which saved LU as much
as £60,000. A shared approach to access was the background to a better working relationship. Network Rail staff with a valid PTS certificate were provided access to LU track, and in return, LU staff with a valid LUCAS certificate could access Network Rail track, in both cases following a site briefing. LU staff were identified by wristbands, while Network Rail staff were identified by stickers on their helmets.

To ensure consistent communications throughout the blockade, Network Rail was kept in the loop on LU’s milestone updates, and in return, LU staff working on site took part in Network Rail conference calls.

No lost time accidents were reported despite an estimated 24,000 hours of upgrade work. A visit from the Office of Rail and Road during the blockade confirmed the project’s success (100% mark), general good housekeeping and strong collaborative working practices with Network Rail.

This unique collaboration with Network Rail was a first for LU and a resounding success. The result is a more reliable railway with reduced maintenance requirements. The gap between the train and the platform was also narrowed and made more consistent by realigning the platform copings to match the new track alignments.

Written by Jamie Coulson, who was the delivery engineer with London Underground for the Paddington Christmas blockade.