Pushing forward with East West Rail plans

Source: RTM Aug/Sep 17

Andy Free, head of engineering assurance at East West Rail (EWR) Alliance, discusses the recent round two public consultation on the plans for the EWR Western Section Phase 2 project.

Just before RTM went to press, the latest public consultation for the EWR Western Section Phase 2 project had concluded. Approximately 500 formal responses were received by the team, down from the previous round where 1,200 had been submitted. And, overall, the general feedback for the plans has been positive. 

From here, the EWR Alliance team will be replying to all those who sent in responses and including feedback into the final stage before submitting the TWA order around Easter next year. 

“This work includes making sure the designs we have got have taken account of consultation feedback, where we can, and that our environmental impact assessment has taken account of feedback and included the relevant information in the environmental statement, which we need to complete by February,” said Andy Free, head of engineering assurance at EWR Alliance. 

“The most contentious area is around what we are planning to do with level crossings on the Bedford to Bletchley Line, and the impact of noise and vibration. They are the two common themes. The issue is more about the level crossings we are not planning to close, so it is about the impact of our increased barrier down time on the highway network.” 

Electrification scrapped 

One controversial change to the plans, at the request of the DfT, has been the removal of electrification from the project’s scope on the Western Section between Oxford and Bedford. Asked what this means to the project, Free said: “Being candid, and on the face of it, not a lot. But actually, that was one of the big drivers behind our slippage to date for submitting our TWA application, because we had done the initial modelling for the environmental impact assessment based on some of the trains being electric and we have had to redo all of that modelling to provide an accurate model once the railway is an all-diesel railway. 

“It wasn’t as simple as just don’t bother putting the electrification up – how much is the saving please? At this stage, it has cost money to do that, remove the electrification, to redo significant parts of the environmental impact assessment. 

“It is very unlikely that electrification will come back into the scheme. The steer from the DfT is that wherever we are building a new structure it needs to be clear and suitable for electrification and we must do nothing that hinders future electrification, but it is not on the short- or medium-term horizon.” 

Phase 2 of the Western Section is being delivered by the EWR Alliance, which comprises VolkerRail, Atkins, Laing O’Rourke and Network Rail, the team who worked on Staffordshire Alliance. 

“We are submitting the TWA order in spring next year. That will include a programme which assumes we can’t start any work until the order is made 18 months after the application,” said Free, adding that this gives the team an opening date towards the end of CP6. 

In order to overcome this, and get the team on site earlier, the EWR Alliance will also be submitting a number of local planning applications to construct new overbridges at the same time as the TWA. 

During the Phase 2 project, the team will also be upgrading and reinstating the Bicester-Bletchley-Bedford and Aylesbury-Claydon junction railway lines. There will also be a new station at Winslow, new platforms at Aylesbury Vale Parkway and Bletchley stations, and platform extensions at Woburn Sands, Ridgmont and Princess Risborough. 

“The work is about what we can do to refurbish and substantially rebuild the railway, as it is, into a condition akin to a mainline railway for the next 60+ years,” said Free. “That means that any structures which are significantly deficient we are planning to replace or repair; we have quite a lot of earthworks repairs to do – especially between Claydon and Bletchley, where the earthworks and drainage have not been maintained since the route last saw a train 24 years ago. 

“We are also changing from a single track to a double track, upgrading from the historic speeds which were quite low to 100mph mainline railway standards. There is new track, new signalling systems, signalling power supplies, telecoms, etc. What Phase 2 will look like is very similar to EWR phase 1. 

Unusually, EWR also has innovation workstream as part of the project. This is looking at trying to use a project of this scale to leverage benefits – some of which might only just break even for EWR, but could potentially save the industry money going forward. The team is currently looking at a number of innovations around lateral restraining plates on sleepers and noise mitigation barriers. It is hoped that developments in these areas could even bring the scheme’s £1bn price tag down further.




Andrew Gwilt   21/09/2017 at 11:21

I think that the East West Rail Link via Sandy is a better and safer option as Sandy is mid way between Bedford and Cambridge and it could be a shorter option than going via Hitchin which will take longer. Hope that the central section does get approved with a new station to be built at Sandy that could connect with the current Sandy station on the East Coast Main Line which GTR Great Northern operates trains between London King's Cross and Peterborough. And possibly to connect the East Wesr Rail Link to the West Anglia Main Line to Stansted Airport and to upgrade the northern spur line between the West Anglia Main Line north of Stansted Mountfitchet and west of Stansted Airport.

Martin   21/09/2017 at 13:01

Isn't this just about the Western Section at the moment? Even that sees (optimistically, given the speed at which TWAs are processed?) an opening date 'towards the end of CP6' (2024) The Central section won't open until the 2030s and Network Rail has already stated its preference for a route via Sandy. I don't know how much of the original trackbed is still in existence or how much of it has been sold to private owners.

Ben Foley   21/09/2017 at 14:56

My big worry is the spanner being thrown in the works by the DfT's plans for the East Mids franchise. If DfT gets its way, EastMids franchise won't have any InterCity trains at Bedford for E-W to connect with.

AJG89   22/09/2017 at 02:24

I think that the EWR rail link could go via Hitchin and to connect with the Cambridge line as the flyover was built to put a end to congestion for Cambridge trains to go over the ECML north of Hitchin since it opened in 2013.

Richard   22/09/2017 at 22:57

Only the British could build a brand new line and make it diesel!! This is shocking, and showd a total lack of will, investment, modernity and vision. This railway will connect electrified mainlines, where the trains will not be able to use this line. New trains of a diesel variant will have to be ordered and then we're stuck for decades with diesel again. Absolute farce and total waste of money now. If they can't build a railway to modern standards, don't build it at all.

Boris   23/09/2017 at 21:40

Andrew, how do you propose that the line goes to both Sandy and Hitchin? Do your plans now defy the laws of physics???

Phil   10/10/2017 at 12:55

Completely backwards step to build a new railway line between two electrified lines and NOT include electrification in the plan.

Noam Bleicher   14/10/2017 at 14:48

My guess is that passive provision will be made for electrification on this line, and that bi-mode trains will operate it. So a Bristol-Bedford train will use the wires between Bath Spa and Didcot in the first instance, then Bristol and Oxford as the wires are expanded.

Peter Armand   26/10/2017 at 06:43

As well as building a line to Cambridge a north facing curve should be considered so trains could operate to Peterborough and beyond.There was a northbound spur provided in the second world war.

Brian   24/11/2017 at 18:08

I am greatly in favour of the re opening of this line but feel that Verney Junction and its connectivity with the rest of the network has been ignored here. The line from Buckingham through Padbury to Verney should be reopened and Buckingham - the original county town of Buckinghamshire - should be reinstated on the railway map with services from Buckingham via Verney to Oxford and London as well as Bletchley etc. Oxfordshire is due to become even more congested with traffic than it already is and getting these extra lines reopened is critically important. We also MUST bring forward the construction dates mentioned from 2024 to before 2020 . The slippage acknowledged must be redressed. Waiting another six years before anybody can travel on what is essentially a mothballed railway line between Bicester and Bletchley is ridiculous.

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