Over recent years, there have been a number of articles written about the progress of the £895m Reading station project. It is not the intention of this article to reproduce the significant engineering challenges that this project has so far presented to the engineer, since this information is available in various back issues of The Rail Engineer. However, a recent invitation to meet Jim Weeden, deputy programme director for Network Rail, coincided with the launch of a public exhibition in Reading station in preparation for yet another critical stage in the programme that will be taking place over the Easter period.
It also gave Network Rail the opportunity to remind everyone that the project that started in 2008, and planned to be completed in 2016, is now scheduled to be completed 12 months early – in 2015. This is a reassuring message for the passengers and the associated train operators which use Reading station. However, there are still some significant challenges to be overcome and Easter is imminent!
The new footbridge, referred to as the ‘transfer deck’, built by principal contractor Costain, is now in position. Lift shafts, stairways and 33-metre-long escalators have now been constructed to provide access to new and old platforms across the station.
Teams of subcontractors have been working round the clock to ensure that cladding, lighting, flooring and the myriad of other fixtures required are in place to enable the deck to be opened to the public after Easter. The transfer deck also offers access into the station from both the north and south side of the station for the first time.
This will mean that, for a short period, passengers have to use a temporary walking route via a refurbished subway. Removal of the footbridge will enable the new platforms to be completed and ensure that adequate signal sighting is available for the new track and signalling layout which is slowly but surely taking shape. It will also then not obstruct
the overhead wires required for the recently sanctioned Great Western main line (GWML) electrification project.
When the new north entrance to the station is opened and the old footbridge removed, the subway will provide the only means for pedestrians to get from one side of the station to the other. The intention is for the subway to become a separate responsibility from the station infrastructure and to be maintained by Reading Borough Council. New lighting and a digital CCTV system will be installed in the subway which will provide an important route into the city centre for those who live on the north side of the Thames.
Jim Weeden emphasised that, although it will be a great step forward when the new transfer deck is opened to passengers, there is still a significant amount of work to carry out to the platforms and the canopies. This work is essential to ensure that the bright and lighter design will continue to improve the ambience of the existing, rather dull, Victorian platform canopies.
To the west of the station alongside the route to Bristol, there is a narrow, 2km long, linear site that houses the nearly completed new train depot. This will replace the existing depot that has to be demolished to accommodate a new freight chord and high speed flyover structure. The new depot is 200 metres long and 30 metres wide. It consists of one heavy maintenance road, one light maintenance road and two servicing roads. For those of you who might be interested, the site sits alongside the venue for the much acclaimed Reading Rock Festival – occasional noisy neighbours!
Diesel and electric combined
Many design changes had to be made after work started on the depot in order to accommodate both diesel and electric rolling stock following the recent announcement to electrify the main line. Therefore, there are access platforms to serve both types of rolling stock on each road through the depot. Steve Green, Network Rail’s senior project manager, explained that it is probably the only depot that has multipurpose maintenance roads. He also stated that the end user, First Great Western (FGW), is really looking forward to using this facility because it will be the first depot that they have used that will be designed around their maintenance regime. Elsewhere, it is the other way round. Is this another argument for central procurement of trains, I wonder?
Network Rail planned to complete the work by August 2013, but at present they are confident that they will be able to hand it over to FGW earlier. As well as the depot itself, the site includes facilities for carriage washing, under frame cleaning and fuelling. More than 8km of new track has been installed with through roads and sidings. New signalling for the depot is in place with its own control centre which links into the Didcot signal centre. The associated S&C in the depot complex is operated by in- bearer clamp locks. The entire infrastructure for electrification is in place and they even have a bright new office block built alongside offering a superb view of the festival stage. What more could they want?
So, the plan is that the new train depot will be open for use at the end of 2013 as, on the opposite side of the tracks, the existing depot will be demolished so that two Cow Lane bridges can be widened, easing traffic congestion near Reading West station. The plan is to complete work on the Cow Lane bridges during 2014.
It is worth remembering that the whole intention is to ease one of the UK’s largest rail bottlenecks. Essential work over Easter will enable engineers to complete the work on building five more platforms to combat congestion, as well as creating two entrances and the transfer deck footbridge to give passengers much improved access.
Further west Balfour Beatty has been appointed as principal contractor to build a new 2km long railway viaduct alongside the old depot. This
will separate the heavy freight trains heading north from Southampton docks from the GWML.
Network Rail’s major programme director, Robbie Burns, said the project was more than just upgrading a station. He added: “We’re building a viaduct, constructing new bridges and embankments, making massive alterations to track layout, renewing signalling and building a train depot.”
To sum up, Network Rail’s revised programme amalgamates three separate pieces of engineering work at Easter 2013. This will see new entrances and platforms brought into use at the station offering significant improvements but there is much more to be done. The project will not be completed until 2015 following big alterations to the track layout including the construction of a viaduct to take fast lines over slower ones. Progress to date will reassure passengers and train operators that the disruption will be worthwhile, and the good news is that it will be completed a year earlier than planned. There will certainly be many more interesting articles to write about this fascinating, challenging and very impressive engineering project.