Before Easter, Reading Station was a major building site. The travelling public could see what Network Rail was trying to do but it took a degree of imagination to appreciate what it would look like. Then came the Easter break, and the station area was totally transformed and it looks incredibly impressive. Without doubt, passengers can now enjoy a bigger, brighter, better equipped station after Network Rail successfully completed an 11-day programme of upgrades over the Easter weekend.
Following this intense period of work, Graham Denny, Network Rail’s senior programme manager of station works, reflected on what had been achieved: “It’s gone absolutely brilliantly. We opened some of the improvements over the Easter weekend and then we opened the new platforms at the end of the blockade ready to receive the first train when it came in at 04:40”.
One can imagine the relief that the team must have felt since Reading station is used by 14 million passengers annually and any delays could have caused major problems. Station users will now have more space, easier access to platforms, and new passenger information screens. With passenger numbers predicted to more than double to 30 million by 2030, these new improvements are essential.
The new platforms have two sections, A and B, to enable trains of varying lengths to occupy different ends of each platform at the same time, thereby improving efficiency and timings for customers. Each platform now has escalator and step-free access to the new passenger footbridge. Some existing platforms have also been upgraded to the same specification.
More than 2,000 engineers from Network Rail and its team of contractors including Costain, the principal contractor for the station reconstruction, worked round the clock through Easter from late Thursday evening through to the early hours of Tuesday morning to carry out the carefully planned work. This intense period of work enabled Network Rail to complete the work over the Easter period which would ordinarily have taken around 20 full weekends.
The existing footbridge, that spanned the station from the multi storey car park in the north to the booking office on the south side, was successfully removed. This was necessary so that the new platforms could be extended.
It also ensured that signal sighting for the new signal and track layout would be acceptable and that there would be sufficient clearance for the overhead wires for the recently sanctioned Great Western main line (GWML) electrification project.
A 500 tonne mobile road crane, supplied by Ainscough, was used to do this. The bridge was removed in three stages by Costain’s subcontractors, Gilpin Demolition. The first stage took place before Easter, when the north end of the bridge leading to the car park was removed.
During the blockade, the track had to be adequately protected and the remainder of the bridge was broken up in two stages, lifted out and then cut up and taken away from site in skips. This sounds quite straightforward, but care was needed firstly to protect the track and secondly to ensure that the work did not interfere with essential engineering train movements. As Graham explained: “It was a significant logistical challenge, and also it turned out to be quite a public spectacle with crowds watching throughout the night.”
Now that the old footbridge has been removed, an existing subway will provide the sole 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 has been installed in the subway to provide an important route into the city centre for those who live on the north side of the Thames.
New passenger transfer deck
Even before the Easter period, contractors had been working flat out for about six weeks to ensure that the new passenger bridge would be ready in time. The flooring was a big task and the freezing weather did not help. There were over one hundred sub contractors working to ensure deadlines would be met.
New escalators were installed, new lifts and then electricians were employed to carry out testing to ensure that everything worked correctly. Graham described them as ‘the last men standing’ and that they did an excellent job.
Whilst all this was progressing, sub- contractors were fixing the impressive blue and grey cladding, ensuring that everything fitted correctly. Inevitably, reality on site was slightly different to the drawing office design and minor modifications were successfully introduced.
As a result, the station now has two new entrances, four new platforms and a new 110-metre long, 30-metre-wide passenger footbridge, with escalators and lifts providing step-free access to the new platforms.
Track and signalling modifications
Fifty one new turnouts have been installed by Carillion throughout the station area during this period of intense working. The contractors have been under enormous intense pressure to ensure that their plant and machinery was always in the right place at the right time. To ensure that happens requires a huge amount of thought, planning and preparation from engineers who know what they are doing and understand what is happening around them. All this work was carried out without incident, ready for signalling testing.
With all the changes being made to the track rail layout, hand in hand with this has been the introduction of revised signalling. The local element to this in the Reading area was carried out by Invensys and included all the new point machines and signals to operate the revised layout. The work required had previously been described in issue 99 of The Rail Engineer (January 2013) when an invitation in late 2012 to see the ’state of play’ was taken up.
The Reading area is controlled from the Thames Valley Signalling Centre at Didcot which replaced the old Reading Powerbox in 2011. The heart of the signalling system is the Invensys WESTLOCK computerised interlockings and the DeltaRail Integrated Electronic Control Centre (IECC) that provides the operating ‘front end’ to the signallers as well as providing intelligence for train routing and information systems.
DeltaRail’s contribution to the improvements during Easter 2013 involved making modifications to the existing IECC ‘Classic’ equipment relating to Reading IECC A and IECC B along with minor updates to the adjacent
Didcot IECC ‘Scalable’ – the company’s new flagship Signalling Control System. The ‘Classic’ data changes were successfully installed / commissioned on time overnight on the 28/29 March 2013.
The existing Sonning relay interlocking was de-commissioned with associated changes being implemented to the IECC RII (Relay Interlocking Interface) sub-system to support this recovery. This Reading Stage F project work undertaken for the commissioning also included all IECC data works to support the next stageof the programme, known as Reading Stage H, providing Network Rail with a significant time and funding efficiency.
ARS (Automatic Route Setting) sub-system modifications were made in order to support the new signalling layout, ensuring optimal ARS operation and regulation in and around the Reading Station area.
State of the art solution
DeltaRail, in conjunction with Network Rail, implemented the core requirements of module E420 of the Signalling Principles Handbook, concerned with Overrun Detection and Management – a solution deemed to be ‘state- of-the-art’.
Whilst Network Rail has temporarily postponed the commissioning of the Reading Train Care Depot (RTCD) until May 2013, all IECC data including associated Train Describer modifications have already been incorporated providing Network Rail with a ‘flick the switch’ solution.
New viaduct work underway
There is still much to do. Graham remarked that “this project is probably the biggest engineering project on the GWML railway since it was built by Brunel”. As regular readers will be aware, Balfour Beatty has been appointed as principal contractor to build a new two kilometre railway viaduct, valued at £70 million, to the west of the station alongside the old depot. This will separate the heavy freight trains heading north from Southampton docks from the GWML.
The good relationship between contractors also includes train operator First Great Western, which is fully integrated into the process. Over the coming months, more platforms will be upgraded with the station elements of the project due for final completion by February 2014. The programme as a whole will upgrade the station and unblock the bottleneck on the railway serving it – so trains won’t need to queue while approaching the station. All work is scheduled to be completed by 2015, a year ahead of schedule and, hopefully, there will be many more articles for The Rail Engineer to write, reiterating the success that has been achieved to date.