Rail Industry Focus

01.08.15

Connecting Oxford Parkway to the Chiltern Main Line

Source: RTM Aug/Sep 15

Track is now completely laid from Oxford Parkway to the Chiltern Main Line, with the final connection of the two lines expected in September. Andy Milne, senior programme manager at Network Rail, talks to RTM about this major milestone.

Two major signalling commissionings will take place in September on the western section of the East West Rail scheme after the last piece of track needed for new Oxford to London Marylebone services was laid recently.

Over the last 17 months, work has been carried out on the £320m project to build the new rail link, which has transformed a 20-40mph branch line into a multi-track 100mph main line.

A joint venture between Carillion and Buckingham Group Contracting has been delivering the design and construction of the new Chiltern Railways route between London Marylebone and Oxford via Bicester. The new route is 66 miles, compared to 64 miles from Oxford to Paddington – but that involves going via Reading and the very congested Great Western Main Line.

This work has included the construction of two new stations: Oxford Parkway at the site of Water Eaton Park & Ride, and Bicester Village station close to the previous Bicester Town site. Islip station has also been rebuilt.

The project partners have also built a chord three-quarters of a mile long through a field in Bicester, to join the Bicester to Oxford track to the Chiltern Main Line and allow trains to travel to London Marylebone.

Chiltern Railways, which has invested £130m in the scheme, says the completion of track laying is a “significant milestone” for the project and will allow it to run its new service from London Marylebone to Oxford Parkway from 26 October 2015 – a month later than originally planned. From spring 2016, it will extend these services into Oxford city centre.

Andy Milne, senior programme manager at Network Rail, told RTM: “The work has progressed fairly well. I think the key challenges have been keeping all the landowners happy. It is a project that runs through a fairly rural environment. So, maintaining farmers’ access across the railway as we rebuilt the line – while building their alternative access routes – has been challenging.

“We have also had our fair share of environmental measures: we’ve had newts and badgers to re-locate. And in the next section of phase 1, between Oxford and Oxford Parkway, we’ve got bats to deal with at Wolvercote Tunnel.”

The team have worked with Natural England to secure the welfare of the bats while lowering the base of the tunnel and replacing the current bi-directional single track through the tunnel with two bi-directional tracks.

While the new eight-and-a-half mile stretch between Bicester Village and Oxford Parkway was being built, the project partners had to maintain rail access, through a three-staged scheme, to the MoD garrison at Bicester and also to a stone yard at Oxford Parkway for Hansons.

“A good length of the route between Bicester and Oxford is on, effectively, an elevated causeway,” said Milne. “So, an awful lot of permanent sheet piling has gone in to reinforce the shoulders of the existing formation, which allowed us to put a safe walking route down the length of the railway.

“In other areas, particularly around the MoD site, we used a lot of pre-cast concrete retaining walls to minimise land take, but at the same time to provide the additional width needed for that wider rail corridor.”

Three new highway overbridges, which have clearance for future electrification, have been built to close level crossings. And to reinforce some of the embankments along the route, a lot of imported stone has been brought onto the site.

About 650 people are working on-site each day as the team approaches the major September commissioning work.

Milne added that the joint venture has performed well – although when the contract was first entered into, it wasn’t “as developed as perhaps we all thought it was”. However, the partners have been able to provide all the required resources and have integrated with Siemens, carrying out the signalling installation.

The signalling commissioning will be carried out in two stages. “On the existing Chiltern Main Line we are putting in around a dozen new signals between Princes Risborough and the new Bicester South junction. Those are all in place and testing is underway. We commission those on the weekend of 12-13 September. All the ancillary civils for the main line signalling from Bicester to Oxford Parkway is in place now, and the signal posts themselves are going up. We also have testing underway, and that commissions two weeks later on the weekend of 26-27 September.”

Milne told us that on a project of this size there are always challenges, but given the team are three weeks out from major commissioning “it has gone well”.

Future phases of EastWest Rail will ensure to learn from this first phase, including the need to achieve landowner consents earlier and in more detail. “With phase 2, we are already well on the way in terms of defining the single option and the scope,” said Milne.

A formal consultation begins in September.

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