Stafford set for resignalling switchover

Ian JohnsonIan Johnson (pictured), Alliance operations manager on the Stafford Area Improvements Programme, talks to RTM about the major resignalling commissioning work at Stafford. David Stevenson reports.

The £250m Stafford Area Improvements Programme (SAIP) has reached another major milestone with the resignalling of Stafford station nearing completion.

Over the August bank holiday weekend the Staffordshire Alliance – a partnership of Atkins, Laing O’Rourke, Network Rail and VolkerRail – has been carrying out the work to improve the reliability of the equipment on this section of the West Coast Main Line.

The resignalling work, which includes 78 new signal heads, was due to be commissioned over the bank holiday, just after RTM went to press, and should now be being controlled from a desk at the Rugby Route Operating Centre (ROC).

Switching systems

Speaking to RTM about the work, Ian Johnson, Alliance operations manager on SAIP, said: “The bank holiday work is, in effect, turning the existing signalling system off and then switching the new one on and, predominantly, testing.”

Some construction is being done as well, such as signal structures that cannot be put up earlier because they would obscure sighting of existing signals still in use. “There are five gantry signals to go up, and four straight post signals that we have to do,” Johnson said. “That is all planned for the first two shifts of the weekend. Then, on the flip side of that, there are some critical recoveries. For instance, there are new signals up today that are directly behind existing signals. So there are some signals that we have to recover, but that is all programmed to be completed within the first 20 hours.”

 Old signal removed at Stafford station

About 200 people will work on each of the seven shifts over the 77-hour possession, with 20 testing teams per shift, day and night. There will be 60 to 80 testing staff per shift, and a similar number of construction workers.

“In the first 20 hours all the remaining construction work will be complete,” Johnson said. “Then from Saturday night at 8pm it goes ‘wheels free’ so we then test everything and bring it into use on the Tuesday morning.”

Ahead of the August commissioning, the Alliance team has been carrying out ancillary civils work, including the installation of foundations, cable routes and new signals and gantries.


Johnson admits that during this work there have been a few challenges. “Obviously, you have to be very careful around the existing cabling because the signalling system is now old, life-expired and delicate. A lot of care has been taken and we’ve worked well with the maintenance team. They have advised us where elements are particularly delicate and we’ve worked with them to make sure we steered clear of them where we can.

“Or we’ve made sure that the maintainers were with us when we came across any problem areas. But it has worked very well. Any disruptions have been minimal over the last 18 months.

“All the civil infrastructure has been built and, because there is a lot of cable route in the ground already, we’ve planned to use existing where we can.”

Earlier this year, during the May bank holidays, the team installed a new 775-metre Down goods loop south of the station – converting the existing postal siding.

“We have the new goods loop and new siding arrangement on the Down side, so that has all been built over the disruptive possessions that we had over the May bank holidays,” he said. “That is where we tied-in the new goods loop into the existing Down Slow to the existing railway. So we have those connections in there, the S&Cs are installed and the last few weeks we have just been finishing the tamping of it. We also have the OLE installed as well.

“We are actually going to commission the new overhead line the weekend before the signalling commissioning so that all of that is done and dusted – de-risking the bank holiday weekend.”

Minimising disruption

Stafford resignalling is phase 2 of the wider SAIP, with the first phase of works – improving the line speed between Crewe and Norton Bridge – completed in April 2014. RTM reported on this in last year’s April/May edition.

At the Stafford station site, which is rather congested, the Alliance team has also constructed a maintenance depot, which will be left for the new assets. And there have been efforts to minimise disruption in and around the Stafford area.

“We have built this job trying to minimise the disruption to the travelling public, so it has all been ‘rules of route’ possession wise,” said Johnson. “The only disruptions we’ve had at Stafford were last August, over Christmas, the two May bank holidays and the upcoming August commissioning.

“So you can count on the one hand all the disruptive possessions that we’ve had. We’ve planned it so that we built all the big elements – so when the new tracks connecting with the existing railway or any new points were going in – in those ‘disruptives’. Everything else has been built on ‘rules of route’ possessions on Saturday and midweek nights. We’ve really worked hard to keep the railway running as we’ve built it.”


Once the August work is complete, the signalling for platforms 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 will be bi-directional, and there will be some line speed increases in areas around Stafford. For instance, the slow line speeds – predominantly used by local passenger/freight services – between Great Bridgeford and Stafford will increase from 75mph to 100mph.

“The track has always been fit but it has predominantly been overhead line adjustments to cater for the higher line speed,” said Johnson. “There is no timetable change associated with Stafford, immediately this year, so it will in fact give some operational con-tingency on the railway. This is because the line will be fit for a higher speed than today, but the timetable will stay the same.”

The resignalling team also has to remove signal boxes 4 and 5 at Stafford. “The signal boxes will close over the August bank holiday, and all the signalling will be controlled from Rugby ROC. Everything is set up down there,” RTM was told.

“Removal of the boxes will be between August and Christmas this year, and we’ve had some interest from some heritage organisations about recovering some of the equipment.”

Further signalling

SAIP is the first major contract in the UK to be carried out using the ‘Pure Alliance’ model, developed in Australia, and is based around one agreement where all partners share the benefits and risks.

As part of the project Atkins has delivered the signalling, power and telecommunications element; VolkerRail predominantly the track and OLE; and Laing O’Rourke the civils.

Discussing the Alliance structure, Johnson said: “I think it has worked really well. You don’t get any of the conflict of interest that you probably have if it was all separate organisations looking after themselves.

“It has been a real team effort and everyone has one goal in mind: deliver the project as best we can. It has worked really well and I think we’ve made some good efficiencies.”


Although the Stafford resignalling aspect of SAIP is coming to a close, the signalling team is still poised for further work on phase 3 of the project, which involves installing a new flyover at Norton Bridge.

The proposed construction of a grade-separated junction, including six miles of new 100mph railway, 10 new bridge structures and two bridge enhancements is expected to be complete in 2017, with key commissionings next year.

“The team is still here and ready to move up,” said Johnson. “A lot of the earthworks at Norton Bridge are nearing completion now, with a lot of the new structures built.

“From September we’ve got the new track re-laying machines coming in to build the new track between Norton Bridge. So, by Easter 2016, we will be commissioning the scheme.

“The new track layout will need signalling and then to integrate that with the existing signalling up there, which is more recently installed signalling equipment.

“We are also going to migrate, at Easter, the Norton Bridge workstation at Stoke signal centre to Rugby onto the Stafford desk. So, when we complete the project as a whole, the Stafford and Norton Bridge areas will be on the Stafford work station down at Rugby.”


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