Much has been written in Rail Engineer about the Thameslink Programme and, more recently, about the changes at London Bridge and the construction of the Bermondsey dive-under. Both alterations are designed to smooth the path of Thameslink trains through London Bridge station and on to Sussex without crossing and blocking other routes in the process.
While the civil engineering feats are impressive – London Bridge station has been changed from having six through and nine terminating platforms into nine through and six terminating, while the Bermondsey dive under has been created in the middle of a complex junction, all while keeping the station open – one thing has been forgotten. That’s the track itself.
The track layout has been totally changed – in some cases several times as interim arrangements were installed and later removed.
How many points?
Look at the track plan and the sheer number of points used in the layout is impressive. To save counting them, and a few may be just out of shot, there are 154 in total.
All had to be manufactured off-site, delivered, fitted, tested and connected in to the signalling system over a space of just over five years.
With such a volume to be produced, it would be natural for the contract to be split amongst several manufacturers to spread the load. And that was exactly the case – Vossloh Cogifer manufactured 149 of them at Scunthorpe, while another company made five.
Naturally, this was a major contract for Vossloh Cogifer. Although ostensibly to Network Rail’s recent NR56V standard, most of the 149 units were different in detail, and even varied from simple turnouts to crossovers and more complex layouts.
First of all, Vossloh Cogifer mobilised its supply chain. Some of this was in-house – many of the cast manganese crossings for the turnouts were sourced from the Vossloh Cogifer Outreau foundry in France while switch-blade forgings came from Vossloh Cogifer Kihn in Luxembourg. Rail machining and assembly along with concrete bearers was undertaken at Vossloh’s own facility at Scunthorpe.
Other material was free-issued by Network Rail – the latest design of hollow stretcher bars, SPX in-bearer Clamplock point actuators and the plain rail itself. Yet more came from outside suppliers, including rollers, clips and other hardware.
Running alongside the supply of layouts for the project, Vossloh Cogifer was actively commissioning its own under-cover facility to manufacture concrete bearers and assemble the units prior to client inspection. This new facility also has rail access, so Network Rail’s fleet of tilting wagons could be brought in to be loaded with the finished modules, usually three for each S&C unit, for transport to site.
It all went according to plan. Units were fully assembled and tested at both Scunthorpe sites, then broken down into modules for transport and final assembly on-site.
Additionally, Vossloh Cogifer was able to support the project with the supply of insulated joints, special structural adjustment switches and factory-assembled curved check-rail panels.
Trackwork installation at London Bridge station had to be co-ordinated with the demolition of arches below the track, where the new concourse was being built, and the subsequent installation of new structures to support the track above.
Finally, on a foggy day in November, Network Rail fitted the final set of points in Bermondsey, connecting the tracks through Platform 4 at London Bridge, which will be used by Thameslink services from May 2018, to the new flyover. This did not require a disruptive possession, as it was installed on track that was currently out of use, and formed the last part of the programme’s 118 distinct phases.
Since the track was now complete, the 10-day London Bridge blockade over Christmas was primarily for signalling commissioning, but it included new track being tied into the operational railway. Four through platforms were brought into use, routes that will be used by Thameslink trains, which currently all run through Elephant and Castle. This is for driver training prior to the new timetable in May 2018.
At the same time, the new station concourse was fully opened to connect Tooley St and St Thomas Street.
As the huge Thameslink Programme neared its end, railway systems project director Mark Somers was understandably satisfied: “I was impressed with Vossloh and their entire set-up. Their management team is very customer focussed and I was also impressed at the excellent working relationship and collaboration with our Network Rail team and our delivery partner Balfour Beatty. Vossloh have manufactured high quality S&C and delivered on time throughout the duration of this contract, which has been absolutely critical in delivering the major track remodelling at London Bridge.
“I am thrilled that we have successfully completed what has been the most complex track realignment the UK’s railway has ever seen. By untangling the tracks surrounding London Bridge, we will provide more reliable, more frequent journeys for passengers than ever before. The Thameslink Programme is a vital part of Network Rail’s Railway Upgrade Plan and I am very proud of the work we have done.”
There will still be work to do in the station throughout 2018, but this will be completed during evenings and weekends, rather than on weekdays.
Once complete, London Bridge will be a modern, spacious and fully accessible station, fit for the twenty-first century and able to support the new timetables, meaning better journeys, more reliable services for passengers and, from May 2018, Thameslink services returning to London Bridge for the first time in over three years, serving a range of new destinations.
Having been a major supplier to the Thameslink Programme, Vossloh Cogifer, too, should be proud of its achievement. Manufacturing so many complex layouts over the course of the programme called for cooperation at all levels. The teams from both Network Rail Thameslink and Vossloh Cogifer developed a close working relationship so they could respond better to problem solving. The respect and trust between the teams also helped when they were called upon to react to short lead-time requests.
Wendy Preston, commercial and supply chain manager, said: “We have worked on the London Bridge scheme for the last five years, supplying 149 of the sets of points that have been used on the Thameslink Programme. It has been a challenging project but we are very proud to have been a part of such an amazing achievement.”
So what next for Vossloh Cogifer and the team at Scunthorpe? Well, they have recently also completed the supply of switches and crossings for the Crossrail project, a contract which involved supplying 32 switch and crossing units – a mixture of CEN56 and CEN 60 layouts – for both ballasted and slab track.
Vossloh is now manufacturing the S&C for the Birmingham and Manchester tram extensions and looking forward to putting its knowledge of very-high-speed track to use on future UK projects.
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