Rail Industry Focus


A journey up the Chase Line

Source: Jun/Jul 16

Sam Evans, Network Rail’s project manager for the Walsall to Rugeley electrification project, updates RTM’s Luana Salles on the scheme and the new technologies being used to deliver it more efficiently.

The £90m Chase Line electrification project, which also includes improving line speed and closing level crossings, has been a long time coming. While the line up to Walsall was electrified in 1966, the stretch from Walsall to Rugeley remains the only non-electrified Centro route operating out of Birmingham New Street – creating what Cannock Chase MP Aidan Burley called a “massive historical frustration” for the West Midlands in 2012. 

“In spite of having one of the highest annual passenger growth figures in the West Midlands, passenger services on the route had to be reduced from December 2011 as a direct result of it not being possible to operate the whole Birmingham-Walsall-Rugeley service with electric trains and the need to transfer scarce diesel rolling stock to provide capacity on other routes,” Burley said in the House of Commons four years ago, demanding that the scheme be included in CP5. 

And, indeed, the scheme was given the go-ahead in 2013 and had its importance recognised in the Hendy Review, where timescales were kept intact with a view of completing the works by December 2017. 

Jam-packed trains 

Speaking to RTM just a couple of months before bridge reconstructions are expected to finish, Sam Evans, project manager on the Walsall to Rugeley electrification project at Network Rail, called the scheme “absolutely critical” to daily commuters stuck on jam-packed trains. 

“We’re seeing 14% annual growth of passenger numbers, and if you ever get on a train at 9am from Walsall, it’s absolutely rammed and standing room only,” he said. 

“The benefit of electrification is that you’ll have more three-carriage trains, with more seats in each carriage as well, so you’ll have much more capacity. What we’re also expecting is that, as there are more and more services throughout the day as a result of the electrification, it’ll become more and more popular off-peak as well.” 

Round-up of works 

Evans said there were about 19 interventions in total as part of the clearing works, which included lowering tracks and rebuilding bridges. The actual electrification work kicked off in October 2015, with the next major milestone being the completion of all foundations by the end of this year. The wiring of the OLE is expected in about a year’s time, with the electrified line due to be handed over to TOCs in 2017. 

“That not only includes electrification, but also the line speed increase programme that will increase the line speed from 50mph to 75mph in certain areas of the route,” Evans noted. 

Walsall Tunnel Track Lower Easter 15

“We’ll also include a few other works in the area, including the Bloxwich level crossing closure. We’re looking to close that level crossing because that’s a critical interface to the OLE, but it has also had a number of incidents as well.” 

Piling and installing OLE masts 

Evans added that Network Rail is learning lessons from other major schemes to use a “much more detailed methodology” to install piles. 

“We are visiting sites and getting the co-ordinates at several points around the pile location in order to build a picture of the area we are working in,” he told us. “We’re noting vegetation and other obstructions and then digging a 1.2m trial hole at each foundation and moving any cables in situ out of the way, so as to minimise the chance of hitting a buried service. 

“This information is then fed back to the team and any additional works at the location is organised, so that it can be sorted before we pile. This methodology has meant that in having installed 450 piles, we have never hit a buried service, and we have never had to return to site because of issues like unknown de-vegetation requirements.” 

In total, there will be around 1,000 overhead line support structures along the route. To date, approximately 40% of the piling work has been carried out. 

Evans said that OLE masts will also be installed “much more efficiently” compared to the old method, where “you would sling the mast into position” with the help of several people. 

By using a ‘manipulator’ developed in conjunction with TXM Plant, the same operation can be carried out faster and by just two people, in addition to safety critical staff. 

“So it means less people on site for less time, in a more controlled environment,” Evans argued, “all of which leads to a safer operation, which is what we’re all about as a company.” 

One of the other benefits of the co-ordinated system being used with the foundations, said Evans, is that “once the pile is in the ground, we can survey the final location and know exactly where the foundations are along the route, to the millimetre”. 

“This means that we can then take that information and feed it into the design process for the rest of the OLE,” he continued. “We are currently able to design the OLE masts with exact location for the number plate, and we can design the exact size and registration of the cantilever on the OLE mast. This means this can all be pre-fabricated off-site so the mast turns up with everything already attached and then landed on the foundation using the manipulator. 

“This saves a lot of time and visits to the structure. Traditionally you would use a shift to install the mast, then install SPS (small parts steelwork), then install the cantilevers – all requiring separate, sometimes multiple, visits in the limited amount of access we have to do the work. This new process will mean we will eventually be able to do all of those processes off-site and then deliver the complete assembly in one visit and without the use of specialist OLE linesmen. 

“At the moment the project can deliver all the masts with everything apart from the cantilever, due to concerns over transport and logistics causing damage, and we are working on how we can get the masts delivered with cantilevers as well.” 

331 TRY TO USE Manipulator with the OLE mast

Minimising disruption 

In terms of disruption, Evans said Network Rail has to plan blockades carefully to ensure commuting passengers are affected as little as possible. This includes working predominantly with London Midland and freight operators to ensure all blocks are taken at times of the year that least affects their customers. 

Better links for the West Midlands 

Once the electrification is complete, Network Rail forecasts an increase of over 100% in capacity on the route due to electric rolling stock. The understanding at the moment is that the current diesel stock will be replaced by cascaded Class 323s. The diesel stock will then be cascaded to other parts of the network in “desperate need” of diesel trains. 

“This project, and everything else that we’re doing on these lines, shows the commitment of Network Rail and, ultimately, the DfT to improve transport links in the area, and to provide better transport links for people on the route into Birmingham,” Evans said.


Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Andrew Gwilt   17/07/2016 at 13:19

As the Chase Line between Walsall and Rugeley is to be electrified with 25kv Overhead electrification and Class 323's and Class 350's to use the newly electrified line. What about electrifying the Coventry to Nuneaton line with Class 350's to be used and 2 new stations-Coventry Arena and Bermuda Park stations that are already opened would also see new overhead electrification to be installed if the electrification goes ahead on that line.

John Gilbert   25/08/2016 at 14:53

It is encouraging to see OHLE work starting at last on the Chase Line. Please may we have frequent pictures of the work in progress? Now may I ask when the ACTUAL WORK of electrification between Barnt Green and Bromsgrove will begin? It's not so very far after all! [And on that topic, I find it very, very disappointing that, having provided passengers to and from Bromsgrove with a spanking new station, those same passengers are to be required to walk in the open air from the covered footbridge stairs, (think a rainy day,) to the silly little bus shelters which is all that have been provided.] So has the ship been spoilt for the proverbial ha'porth of tar!

Graham Jones   19/09/2016 at 09:39

Although I now live in Texas, USA, I still watch with interest the ever-progressing popularity and new works on the Chase line. Progress...yes, electrification finally. Maurice Newman (many knew him) would be so proud today.

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