The Great North Rail Project is a multi-billion pound investment aimed at stimulating economic growth in the north of England by 2022 and creating more reliable journeys for the region’s passengers. It will enable 2,000 extra services each week and allow 40,000 more passengers to travel each day.

One of the weak spots on the current network was Newcastle station’s south junction, where the crossing units had a reputation for failure. In 2017 alone, there were a total of 15 failures, disrupting travel for over eight million passengers. In total, there were 19 dilapidated S&C units across a complex track layout, all of which needed replacement.

Network Rail was able to secure a nine-day closure for the completion of the engineering works – a time frame unheard of for such a busy region. To ensure a successful and timely completion, steel engineering giant Voestalpine VAE was approached to supply the required panels.

Bespoke designs

Working closely with Network Rail and the S&C North Alliance, a partnership of Network Rail and AmeySersa, Voestalpine VAE began the project with a technical assessment of the existing tracks, which hadn’t received improvements since the late 1980s. It became clear that complexities such as the waybeams of the King Edward bridge, the inclusion of shallow depth concrete bearers and two instances of congested diamond arrangements meant that bespoke designs would be required for several of the deliverables.

First, Voestalpine VAE developed new adjustment switch baseplate designs to facilitate the standard clamping arrangements at the interface of the bridge and viaduct. This allowed the newly renovated track segments to be accurately secured with the existing waybeams of the bridge.

To provide the S&C to suit shallow depth concrete bearers, the company then designed and manufactured a significant quantity of bespoke cast-iron baseplates, which were kept as close to Network Rail’s standard designs as possible.

Finally, the team also designed two custom 1-in-8 slip switch diamonds – both on concrete bearers – for the two congested arrangements.

Challenging logistics

With all panels designed and manufactured, the next challenge was to ensure successful delivery to the site. Throughout the nine-day closure, Newcastle station remained open to passengers, which meant all south-approaching trains were diverted to the north entrance. This increased activity meant delivery needed to be expertly coordinated.

To transport the 88 completed panels from its Doncaster construction yard, Voestalpine VAE scheduled 52 road trailers from two haulage companies. To overcome the site access constraints, the panels were arranged and stacked in reverse sequence for fitting and each one was restricted to a maximum mass of 15 tonnes.

This logistical preparation paid off, allowing delivery and installation to be swiftly completed within the nine-day window.

“A project of this size requires a lot of faith and trust from all parties involved,” said design manager Richard Parkin. “We developed an open working relationship with Network Rail and the North Alliance to ensure the S&C were designed, manufactured, assembled and delivered with military precision and to the criteria required.”

The bespoke innovations that Voestalpine VAE introduced for the renewal of Newcastle station’s south junction were specifically designed to provide reliability and longevity. With the project successfully complete, it is expected that the improvements will significantly reduce the frequency of signal failures and track issues for years to come.


Read more: The other Northern Powerhouse: behind the scenes at Amey Rail North