Rail Industry Focus


Bridging success

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Apr/May 2014

As part of the Stafford Area Improvements Programme (SAIP) a new flyover at Norton Bridge junction is being constructed to remove a major bottleneck on the West Coast Main Line. RTM’s David Stevenson has more on the latest project developments following a site visit in April.

The Stafford Area Improvements Programme (SAIP) is a £250m scheme made up of three core parts: improving the line speed between Crewe and Norton Bridge, resignalling Stafford station, and installing a new railway flyover at Norton Bridge.

Prior to attending a special briefing on the project, it was easy to underestimate the size and scale of the task that lies ahead for the four project partners – Network Rail, VolkerRail, Laing O’Rourke and Atkins, who form the Staffordshire Alliance. The new collaborative contract mode “will help to transform the delivery of rail infrastructure projects in the UK”, they have said.

SAIP will increase capacity on one of Britain’s busiest mainline railways which, within five years, is expected to be over-capacity.

The project will remove a major bottleneck on the West Coast Main Line and create additional capacity to run more services: two extra trains per hour (off-peak, each direction) between London Euston and the North West; one extra fast train per hour (each direction) between Manchester and Birmingham; and one extra freight train per hour (each direction) through Stafford.

This, according to Network Rail programme manager and head of the Alliance Ian Jones, will reduce congestion at key points between Stafford and Crewe and create capacity “through the combination of new infrastructure and timetable re-cast”.

Linespeed improvements

The programme will deliver this through three very different projects. Phase one – linespeed improvements between Crewe and Norton Bridge, which ran from January 2013 to April 2014 – has been completed a year ahead of schedule.

RTM was told that during the work, the slow lines have been made faster, increasing the line speed from 75mph to 100mph. Works included modifying overhead line equipment and installing four new signals during weekends and midweek nights – reducing the impact to passengers and lineside residents.

Steve Smith, project manager for linespeed improvements at Staffordshire Alliance, said: “The improvements have been delivered on budget, costing a total of £4m, and ahead of schedule. 

“Also, the other phases will be able to take advantage of the new fast lanes, and the first project will act as an enabler for the other projects.”


Phase two, the Stafford resignalling, is still ongoing. This project will include the installation of a new freight loop and the replacement of life expired signalling, telecoms and power supplies.

Additionally, the signalling control will be transferred from the existing Stafford No4 and No5 signal boxes to the new Rugby Route Operating Centre (ROC), in line with Network Rail’s national push to centralise train operations and control in 14 ROCs by 2030.

Ian Johnson, project manager of Stafford resignalling, said: “We will be the first project to move into Rugby ROC, which will control signals for Stoke and Rugby SCC. We should move into there by January 2015. It will reduce manpower but brings in new technology that will improve the efficiency of the line.”

As part of the resignalling project, which will run until August 2015 when testing and commissioning will take place, 88 signals need to be installed on a pretty much like-for-like basis to the old technology, which will be done in around 30 stages.

Johnson added: “We are using the rules of route to bring in the new equipment, which includes LED signals, axle counters instead of circuits and new power supply points, that will be mixed with the existing technology. And, even though the new kit may be temporarily controlled through the Stafford signal boxes, we will shortly migrate everything down to control at Rugby ROC.”

Another key part of the programme will be the installation of bi-directional signalling for all platforms and enabling an increase in the slow line speeds (predominantly used by local passenger/freight services) from 75mph to 100mph between Great Bridgeford
(near Norton Bridge) and Stafford. Running from spring 2014 to late 2015 with an August 2015 commissioning date, the majority of the works will also be delivered during weekends and midweek nights.

Norton Bridge flyover

The final phase of the project, which was subject to a Development Consent Order and has been four years in the planning, is the flyover at Norton Bridge that will see six miles of new 100mph railway installed.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin MP finally granted the Order on 31 March 2014 after the application process started back in October 2010. The proposed body of construction work includes a grade-separated junction, 10 new bridge structures and one bridge enhancement, four river diversions, major environmental mitigation works, pipeline, road and footpath diversions and the construction of temporary haul roads.

Main works are scheduled to run from spring 2014 to 2017, with key commissionings in 2016. These works have been preceded by preparatory works carried out under separate planning consent. And, so far, as part of its ecological mitigation works, 14km of
great crested newt fencing and 2km of hedge netting have been installed.

Matt Clark, project manager of Norton Bridge, said that a key point in the construction phase is between June 2014-August 2015 on the construction of bridge 5 (rail over rail) and 5a (road over rail). “Some of the material we are generating through excavation and cutting means that those bridges need to be in place in order to move key materials for the project,” he stated.

He outlined that construction of the new road junction at Chebsey Lane, to accommodate construction traffic using the main compound, is to be complete by June 2014. And, during the same month, bulk earthworks and structures construction will begin. It is anticipated that track installation on the new alignment will also commence in June 2015.

“By the end of the project,” said Clark, “we will deliver the new flyover, removing a key bottleneck at Norton Bridge junction and segregating intercity, commuter and freight traffic. During Easter 2016 there will be a 102-hour possession period for flyover commissioning, with major works taking place over the May and Spring bank holidays – by doing what we are doing we should save 23 weeks on the original strategy.”

It is also expected that the overall SAIP project, which was originally estimated to cost £940m and is now costing £250m, will be delivered ahead of schedule.

Collaborative working

Of course, another interesting aspect of the delivery is that it is the first major contract to be carried out using the ‘Pure Alliance’ model, as developed in Australia – based around one unified agreement where all parties share the benefits and the risks.

Jones said: “We brought the four project partners together and through the Alliance we are hoping to transform the infrastructure delivery of the project, which will be defined through excellence in collaboration and creating a positive lasting legacy for Staffordshire.

“It is not just about going in building and improving the railway; the lasting legacy and how we interact with the community are a fundamental part of what we will be doing. This will not be successful as a programme if we do not do this.”

There have been alliances before to deliver rail infrastructure works, notably the one that delivered the Hitchin Flyover. But they have still basically been an alliance agreement overlaid on top of a more traditional contract. Jones said: “What we are doing here is the next step. It means all four parties need to be aligned; working to certain values and behaviours in a collaborative manner.”

The Alliance manager added that building on the recent completion of line speed improvements between Crewe and Norton Bridge, the last few months have been major milestones for SAIP. “Our key focus now,” he said, “is to deliver these works efficiently
and effectively and to minimise the impact they will have on the local community.”

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