Rail Industry Focus


Preparing for electrification

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Dec/Jan 2012

Barry Graham, business development director at Northern Rail, discusses the recently opened rail depot at Allerton in Merseyside.

The re-opening of Allerton depot has been in the pipeline for a long time, but when work finally did start, it was all done incredibly quickly.

Northern started discussions with Axiom Rail, the previous owners, around three years ago. By this time, the demand for depot maintenance capacity was already growing, and along with extra fleet requirements, the project presented the opportunity to prepare for the electrified units, following the electrification of the railway in the North West.

The redevelopment included complete re-ballasting of the track, renewed points work, a new type of hand-operated, hydraulic points machine installed as well as a new carriage washing plant. The side pits and the under-train wash are still in the course of being completed.

Business development director at Northern Rail, Barry Graham, spoke to RTM about the demand for this new depot and how challenges were overcome to complete the project on time.

Creating capacity

Graham said: “Our depot capacity at the three main depots we have at Heaton in Newcastle, Newton Heath in Manchester and Leeds have been under pressure for a long time, because the fleet has increased progressively, since the start of the Northern franchise. Therefore we definitely needed more capacity purely for that purpose.

“But taking a longer strategic view, Allerton depot is fully wired 25kV overhead. In the knowledge that the North West electrification has been approved, we knew that we needed somewhere to be able to deal with the change in the fleet that was going to come about with the electrification.”

The depot will also be able to cater for much larger capacity as Northern’s fleet continues to grow. Graham explained: “It has a substantial capacity to take on more vehicles over time and it will definitely be the main base for the electric fleet once the North West electrification is completed.

Timing is everything

After buying the depot from Axiom Rail, the initial timescale that Network Rail proposed for redeveloping the site would have resulted in opening in early 2014; over two years after the additional vehicles were set to arrive. However, after discussion, Network Rail agreed to begin work earlier, and refurbishment started around May 2011.

With new rolling stock expected to be in use from December 2011, this left only a short timescale to complete the project within. However the depot opened on time and Graham said: “I think we can say without reservation that Network Rail has done a superb job in that respect.

“There are still some things to complete, there is an under-train wash and side pits still to be finalised and that will be done, all being well, by the end of February. The wheel lathes needs to be re-activated. But we have an operational depot and they’ve done us proud.

“It was an excellent example of Network Rail concentrating on delivering on its objective rather than being focused on compliance and process, as I’m afraid sometimes in the past they have been.”

Steps to success

Good project management, sustainability and provision of employment have ensured benefits to the area. For example, 45 jobs were created, representing a substantial employment opportunity.

Additionally, new technology allowed the installation of an eco-friendly control for temperature and lighting. Graham added: “Given that it was an opportunity to be able to use current technology and current best practice, this has been a very important feature. Network Rail drove that and we were very supportive of it.

“It’s been a tremendous benefit, tackling things in that way. In terms of the environmental approach I think it’s fair to say the depot incorporates current best practice.”

Network Rail conducted the project management and directly employed staff, supported by a range of contractors and specialists to carry out the work. Graham suggested that keeping in close working contact helped to ensure smooth running during the project.

He said: “We’ve had our own depot manager designated on-site, to make sure that we have the constant close liaison. We handled the programme by having frequent exchanges so that we were up to speed with what was happening. A ‘no surprises’ philosophy applied. I think that’s been one of the secrets to our success.”


Conducting such a huge project in that amount of time did prove challenging, Graham admits, but this just makes successful completion even sweeter.

“The biggest challenges were the sheer scale of the task in a very tightly compressed timescale. Although the depot had to be handed over to us by the timetable change date, of course we needed people to be in there for training purposes, in November. Some training was done offsite but we needed people in there on the ground to do all the training that you need to do on-site, plus a start on getting the depot fully equipped.

“Between the initial extreme of proposed completion in early 2014 and doing it in effect what was six months; that was a tremendous achievement. It was the complexity combined with the very compressed timescale that was the biggest challenge.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com


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