Derby station has just undergone a major remodelling, one that the project’s sponsor has described as “perhaps THE biggest remodelling scheme of its type in recent years”. Rail Engineer published a preview of the works planned for Derby (issue 155, September 2017) and also reported on progress partway through (issue 165, July 2018).

With the major work complete, and the station reopened, it is time to reflect on what has taken place and the significance of a scheme that has completely changed the operational methodology at the station junctions and has also spread its impact some distance from the station itself.

To start, it is worth reviewing the outline of the scheme to allow the second phase of the works to be understood in context.

The station was previously remodelled in the late 1960s as part of a major East Midlands-related Derby remodelling, when the now to be superseded power box was brought into service. Equipment in that power signal box was approaching its end of effective life and the control would become the last portion of East Midlands signalling to migrate onto the adjacent East Midlands Rail Operating Centre (EMROC).

Similarly, the permanent way and switch and crossing units had also reached their end-of-life condition. Regular maintenance had kept the station performing well since the 1960s but, with passenger numbers doubling in the past twenty years, the Derby resignalling project represented a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to replace and upgrade the infrastructure.

2018, therefore, was an opportune time to redevelop the station and associated layouts driven by that requirement to replace existing signalling equipment. The main station buildings and concourse were replaced in the 1980s, and was further modernised in 2013, resulting in very little heritage to concern designers who could have a free reign to produce the most modern facilities.

Ambitious project

The high-level project objectives were:

  • To reduce journey times, improve performance, increase the line speed and segregate services;
  • To remodel the station for a simplified and compliant track and signalling layout;
  • To renew life-expiring signalling and track infrastructure in the area (including Spondon level crossing);
  • To deliver a layout ready for future electrification.

In summary, achieving those objectives involved a £200 million investment to reconfigure both track and signalling in the Derby station and surrounding area, delivering a more efficient and reliable layout.

Crucial to the planning was the timing of main work: the partial closure would run from 22 of July to 7 of October and could be split into two distinct phases.

Phase one, from 22 July to 2 September, was of six weeks’ duration. This was followed by phase two, 2 September to 7 October, was five weeks. In the whole period, there was to be only one day with no trains, on 2 September, to facilitate essential testing and commissioning activities.

An overview of the work content is impressive, with a baseline of laying fifteen kilometres of new track, which was to be replaced and laid in a completely new configuration. As an adjunct to the core physical works were the tasks of installing, testing and commissioning a considerable signalling upgrade, related closely to the upgrading of Spondon level crossing, south of the station area on the London main line. This would result in reduced barrier downtime at the crossing, bringing benefits to all.

As well as the operating railway, there were to be improvements to nearly all the existing platforms, including the provision of a completely new island platform in the location of the old goods lines. Platforms improvements would include new canopies on the renumbered Platforms 4 and 5, the old bay Platform 5 having been dispensed with, while the new platform would be connected to the existing station footbridge by lifts and stairs.

New pointwork in place, simplifying the southern approach to Derby station.

New pointwork in place, simplifying the southern approach to Derby station.

Close cooperation

The 79-day partial closure, the longest ever continuous partial closure of an operational railway, featured a great many individual milestones, but the programme was essentially divided into four key stages:

  • Days 1-9: possession of the Birmingham line was taken while the North-South line remained fully operational;
  • Days 9-44: work was extended to include the south lines towards Trent;
  • Days 44-79: Day 44 was a major programme milestone, with the station becoming a temporary terminus from the South and West (with no trains to the North) – remodelling and signalling re-control led to the closure of the old Derby power box;
  • Day 79: The signalling system, all lines and platforms became fully operational.

Despite the long temporary closure, the sheer number of workers, engineering trains (240 were used during the 79-day period, bringing in materials, including 150,000 tonnes of ballast, and removing waste), road/rail vehicles and the amount of equipment on site, meant that each contractor’s work programme involved a great deal of preparation and a huge amount of collaboration, with detailed planning taking place months in advance.

The project was managed under a ‘hub and spoke’ arrangement, with Galliford Try undertaking the station work, Amey Sersa looking after the track while Siemens was responsible for all signalling and telecoms, including the control centre, signalling power and civils works associated with it.

A number of major subcontractors took care of significant elements of the project – operational telecommunications were progressed by Optima, building services by Kemada, steelwork by Carver and structural work by MPB.

Close collaboration throughout the programme was a key element of its success, with the spoke contractors working closely with each other, their supply chains and Network Rail Operations to ensure the smooth running of the work.

The co-location of Network Rail and its contractors was also a critical success factor, enabling daily meetings to be held throughout the partial closure (this increased to twice-daily during the project’s critical periods). Co-location also meant that issues were quickly and efficiently resolved by the project team as they arose, without them having to be escalated within individual organisations. This close cooperation meant that a good deal of parallel working was possible, while the integrity of engineering safety processes was maintained at all times.

Improved track layout

Among the major plus points of the scheme was the delivery of an efficient track layout, enabling services to be segregated and journey times reduced, facilitated by modern electronic signalling with remote condition monitoring of the vital operating equipment.

Through the platforms, the station has gained an increased line speed, rising from fifteen miles per hour through the old layout to thirty and forty miles an hour in the new format. Although most trains stop at Derby, there is a real gain for freight passing through, and modern high-performance trains are also able to accelerate and take advantage of the higher speed condition.

The way that the platforms are used has completely changed.

The original layout of the lines round the station was developed for the patterns of freight traffic in the late 1960s. The high concentration of freight traffic at the time, of course, was coal flows, an example being the regular shuttling of coal train working from Ripley through Derby, to Willington power station on the Birmingham line. This coal traffic, together with other freight flows such as steel billets, passed through the station with capacity assisted by the multiple goods lines to the east of the station.

With the heavy focus on freight heading towards Birmingham, rather than London, the layout tended to favour the West Midlands’ routeing. Similarly, with northbound flows, the bias tended towards this cross-country route.

The net result was that London line trains, coming north, were held as they had to effectively cross the northeast – southwest route to gain platform space, creating a high percentage of delays while waiting for platform access.

A vital philosophy of the new layout is the ability to segregate train flows; London services use the east-side Platforms 5 and 6 while northeast – southwest services concentrate on the west-side Platforms 1 and 2.

Other services, such as those serving Nottingham and Cardiff, will use the centre roads of Platforms 3 and 4, whilst freight, at its current pattern, will be able to use the roads through Platforms 1 and 2, taking advantage of the higher line speeds.

Probably the first time there has been no track down here for over 100 years.

Probably the first time there has been no track down here for over 100 years.

The redundant goods lines have disappeared, to make way for the new island platform incorporating the new Platform 6. The eastern face of the new island, in theory Platform 7, flanks the approach lines to Etches Park depot and will not normally be available for passenger service use.

That remodelling has resulted in traffic flows being effectively shifted from the south end of the station to the north. The necessary major trackwork alterations, therefore, drove the project staging, as the south end was renewed and remodelled in the first part, blocking direct access to the cross country and Crewe routes. Cross-country traffic was able to use the Erewash Valley route and the line from Trent Junction to Sinfin, to allow northeast – southwest services to continue.

The second phase involve the renewal, and substitution by new junctions, of the permanent way north of the station. This again cut the route but allowed northeast – southwest services to come into the station from the south before reversing and heading off to the West Midlands.

A casualty of this part of the staging was the suspension of the Matlock branch service. However, this was served in the interim by a bus substitution between Derby and Matlock, serving all stations on the route. Indeed, much of the access to train services for Derby passengers was maintained by a complex system of bus substitution which, while perhaps not ideal, enabled access to the rail network from the city to be maintained.

Many of the existing switch and crossing units replaced were a reliability threat to the station working. The new pointwork used standard items throughout, avoiding known reliability challenges such as switched diamonds. During the last weeks of the programme, track renewal continued north of the station towards Little Eaton and the Chaddesden curve.

Chaddesden curve had originally been part of the route that allowed trains to pass Derby station and access the main goods yard at Chaddesen sidings. The north end approach to the yard had been retained, allowing access from the station to some residual engineer’s sidings and acting as a headshunt for stock coming into service from Etches Park maintenance depot. The curve has now been double tracked and a portion of the sidings signalled, to give increased flexibility of working and some extra stabling room.

Signalling recontrol

In preparation for the main partial closure, the first major tranche of track enabling work took place during a two-day disruptive possession over Christmas 2016, with Siemens installing a five- and four-track under track crossing (UTX), in readiness for the signalling and telecoms and power cables being laid.

A three-day disruptive possession over Christmas 2017 enabled the signalling project team to undertake two key phases of work. The first supported track alterations, with the up and down goods line and an existing signal gantry within the station area being removed, and the signalling infrastructure to accommodate the new fuel and inspection line laid in. Temporary points were also laid in to facilitate access to and from the rolling stock transportation works in Derby. The second tranche of work saw the installation of a new six-track signal gantry (consisting of three legs and two booms) at the south end of the station.

During January 2018, the new telecoms and power systems were made available, with soak testing starting six months later.

The main programme, covering 283 signalling equivalent units, was not only technically complex, given the significant changes to the track layout and the changes in data that were therefore required, but also logistically extremely complex.

In all, the scope of the signalling work included the installation and commissioning of the following elements:

  • Controlguide Westcad workstation at the EMROC in Derby;
  • Three Central Interlocking Processors (CIPs) to enable the resignalling of the wider Derby station area and the recontrol of Derby North;
  • A Relay Interface TDM Application (RITA) to enable the recontrol of the Derby North area;
  • 35 kilometres of re-signalled railway, with a further 30 kilometres of recontrol area;
  • Auto-reconfigurable power supply, 124 signals and 89 point ends;
  • Westrace Trackside System (WTS) ‘zone controllers’ and Frauscher axle counters;
  • 11 relocatable equipment buildings (REBs) and 26 signalling location cases;
  • One modular equipment housing for the re-built level crossing at Spondon, which is now a manually-controlled barrier with object detection crossing.

The remote interlockings at Duffield and Ambergate, to the north of Derby, were re-controlled to the Derby workstation at EMROC during days 44-79 of the partial closure, with the existing TDM (Time Division Multiplex) systems being replaced by the Siemens RITA solution, which has allowed automatic route setting capability to be added to the existing interlockings – negating the need to completely replace the existing equipment and resignal the area.

Part of Siemens control systems portfolio, TDM brings train-operated route release (TORR) and anti-bobbing functionality to the interlocking. Both of these are required to allow the implementation of automatic route setting and both are functions not found on older interlockings.

The programme was also the first application in the East Midlands of Siemens’ WTS (Westrace Trackside System) technology. Already deployed on projects including Thameslink, Liverpool Lime Street and Weaver to Wavertree, WTS is a high-performance, high-availability trackside controller that is rapidly becoming the norm on resignalling programmes.

As an internet protocol (IP) network-based solution, the system can replace traditional trackside functional modules (TFMs), relays, and other legacy equipment. Being a digital-ready solution, it also provides sufficient excess capacity in the signal operating modules (SOMs) to ensure Derby is effectively ‘future-proofed’ for the next 30 years.

Looking south, with the London Road bridge in the background.

Looking south, with the London Road bridge in the background.

Visible improvements

Visitors to the station will notice the improved passenger facilities that have been gained with the remodelling and revised philosophy on the segregation of services.

Galliford Try were responsible for the island platform 6/7 construction and the extensions to the existing platforms. The new island platform gives much improved facilities for passengers joining London services with a new first-class lounge, waiting room, refreshment room and staff facilities. Access to the station footbridge has been facilitated by more effective stairways and, as the station subway does not serve that platform, two, rather than one, new disabled access lifts have been installed. The general design of the new platform and accoutrements matches the appearance of earlier work on the other platforms, carried out in 2013, to give an architecturally cohesive appearance.

Looking back over the project, sponsor Kevin Newman explained that, in his view, the success of the project rested on good planning, an excellent team and a pragmatic view of contingency. There were three major contractors on site (as well as others) and the coordination between them had made a significant contribution to progress, regular interface meetings having facilitated that cooperation and ensured that the project management team were aware of any challenges that might occur.

This complex task was also put into motion during some of the hottest weather seen for ages – an important welfare issue was to ensure staff on-site were suitably hydrated. The dry weather also made the spreading of ballast a dusty process, needing its own mitigation.

As well as the climate-related challenges, it had been important to remember that the project had taken place right in the centre of a large city, and Kevin was pleasing to note that effective stakeholder and neighbour consultation had apparently resulted in very little disruption to the residents from the project construction efforts.

The major train operating companies working through the station had also encouraged progress, doubtless taking note of the improved conditions for their operation after the project was complete. CrossCountry had built diversions into its schedule whilst the East Midlands Trains’ timetable had been set to allow access but retain a reasonable service to the capital.

Further cooperation from East Midlands Trains had also allowed access to the station worksite by accepting and enabling alternative maintenance sites for its trains, while planning moves on and off the Etches Park depot at Derby, to allow station works to progress.

Whilst the station project was underway, East Midlands Trains was also carrying out modification works to that depot to take care of maintenance plans for its expanded High-Speed Train fleet.

Further acceptance of perturbation and careful planning had also allowed the movement of trains in and out of the Bombardier works and the tripping of aviation fuel for Rolls Royce.

Open for business

As 8 of October dawned, the city of Derby could once again enjoy a full rail service, boosted by a much more flexible and effective layout and operations control, taking full advantage of that quoted ‘once in a generation’ opportunity. In the early hours of that morning, the final pieces of equipment and machinery were removed and the lines to the north of Derby station were handed back to East Midlands Trains and CrossCountry to allow the full train service to resume for the first time since Sunday, 22 July.

To thank customers for their patience and understanding over the previous 79 days, thousands of free reusable coffee cups (including a voucher for a free coffee), cupcakes and other treats and surprises were being handed out  throughout the week. Although the project finished on time, there was some disruption to services due to issues elsewhere on the railway. However, this does not overshadow the incredible project achievement.

Summing up, Rail Minister Jo Johnson said: “This is a key milestone in the Government’s rail upgrade programme and is part of the £1.5 billion modernisation of the Midland main line.

“Passengers have been incredibly patient during the summer while the huge engineering work has taken place and they will now start to take advantage of the improvements which will deliver more reliable, faster services, with more seats.”


Thanks to Barry Pearson for his input on the Siemens work on this project, and to the Network Rail media and engineering teams, and to East Midlands Trains, for their help with this article.


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