Rail Industry Focus

01.11.15

Allerton depot upgrade: an important enabler of North West electrification

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2015

The £23m refurbishment project to electrify Allerton Depot will play a key part in supporting the North West Electrification Programme and the introduction of Northern Rail’s Class 319 electric trains. RTM’s David Stevenson reports from the official opening ceremony.

Located near Liverpool South Parkway on the busy Manchester to Liverpool line, Allerton Depot has been transformed in just a few short years from a near-derelict shell to a cutting-edge facility charged with the maintenance of Northern Rail’s new electric fleet.

The facility, bought by Network Rail after its closure by Axiom Rail, has been servicing Northern Rail’s fleet of diesels since December 2011 – following a £10.6m refurbishment.

But as part of the North West Electrification Programme, Network Rail committed to a further improvement scheme, including re-electrification at the depot for the first time since its isolation in 2009.

The three-phase programme was designed to dovetail with Northern Rail’s acquisition of the Class 319s cascaded to the north from Thameslink routes, which started last year. RTM visited the depot on the official completion of phase 2.

During phases 1 and 2, the facility’s train shed has been extended and electrified to accommodate the longer Class 319s. To support this, new electrification equipment has been installed alongside a depot protection system to safeguard staff.

JPL 4641

Upgrading an operational depot

Mark O’Leary, senior programme manager for Network Rail, discussed the development of the work, which has been delivered with principal contractor Buckingham Group.

“We were faced with the challenge of the introduction and cascade of the new electric rolling stock to help Northern Rail in terms of the maintenance of the 319s as they were cascaded in from the end of last year,” he said. “We’ve effectively dug out the whole of the shed and provided new pits, rail and facilities with the depot protection system. This is an operational depot and this, in itself, has proved to be challenging. So getting access for our contractor, Buckingham, has been quite a challenging effort in how we integrated that work.”

The wheel lathe facility has been extended to support the longer trains, and the work on the three wired overhead lines was carried out by Network Rail’s maintenance team.

During phase 2 of the works, more than 450 staff worked on the project – equating to some 82,000 man hours.

A good working environment

While the extension work was being carried out, the contractors also erected a temporary wall – separating the new electric lines – to reduce noise levels and dust.

Joe Holman, Northern Rail’s engineering depot supervisor, told us that he didn’t think people in the depot would have been able to work without the wall, which has now become a permanent fixture.

“I was sceptical on whether it would work,” he said. “But you could hardly hear anything and there were no dust issues. It just helped create a good working environment for the depot. It also helps keep it warm and clean.”

Allerton Depot - Interior

The work also included modernising and expanding the existing maintenance pit to enable improved access, and new lighting and walkways have been installed.

Talking about the work, Ross Beard, project manager at Network Rail, said the challenge was phasing the job to keep trains running. “We needed to keep the facility operational, while doing the works,” he said. “So we made a clear separation between railway and worksites. It was very much separated in that sense. We were quite fortunate that the depot operates mainly at night. So, during the day we could usually get the work done.”

Capacity and power

Further improvements, as part of phase 3, are underway to improve the depot’s capacity, enabling it to stable up to 100 trains. This will mean the depot has the ability to stable/maintain 76 electric trains and 24 diesel trains. However, those on the group visit were told that there are plans to “outdo” the official remit, with the ability to house 118 trains in the future.

Currently, the power for the depot’s electrification comes from a dual feed that is being fetched from the fast and the slow on the West Coast main line. But in the long-term there is a plan, with the re-signalling of the area, to provide an independent power supply.

JPL 4761

Improving connectivity

Alex Hynes, managing director of Northern Rail, said the depot has been re-built behind the scenes without any of the TOC’s customers noticing a difference to service provision or train quality. Welcoming the £23m re-electrification of Allerton, Hynes said: “Creating a Northern Powerhouse of jobs, investment and prosperity is a key objective of the government’s long-term economic plan.

“Northern is proud to be playing a key part in bringing this to life; by introducing 20 Northern Electrics trains we are improving connectivity across the north and providing much needed extra capacity on some of the UK’s busiest routes.”

He added that by the end of the year, Northern will have 20 of its “fabulous” electric 319s running, and “12 of our most crowded services across the whole network are going to get a Northern Electrics service”.

Cllr Liam Robinson, chair of Merseytravel, said it was certainly the cleanest depot he had ever been in. But the whole project is the start of the renaissance and revolution of the railways in the north of England, significantly “improving the standards we have on the railways right across the north”.

Liam Robinson, chair of Merseytravel; Terry Strickland of Network Rail; Alex Hynes of Northern Ra

Transport minister Andrew Jones MP, speaking later, said the re-electrified depot at Allerton will help deliver more electric trains on the Northern Rail network, expanding the fleet in the north west, and crucially, providing additional seats and capacity for customers.

Martin Frobisher, route managing director for Network Rail, said the electrification is an important part of the company’s Railway Upgrade Plan with Network Rail investing over £1bn to improve rail services across the north.

“By electrifying routes between key towns and cities, passengers will benefit from bigger, better and more environmentally friendly trains,” he said. “The improvements at Allerton mean these trains can now be housed and maintained to help deliver these benefits.”

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