Rail Industry Focus


Capability & capacity

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Feb/March 2013

Earthworks have started ahead of the Swindon-Kemble redoubling project, with enabling works due to start in March. RTM caught up with Network Rail programme manager Ross Mahoney and scheme sponsor Michelle Scogings.

Network Rail’s £45m capacity upgrade of the Swindon to Gloucester route, involving the redoubling of the singled track between Swindon and Kemble, will allow for the operation of four trains per hour in each direction and be a vital diversionary route for south Wales trains during the planned electrifi cation of the Great Western Main Line, when Bristol Parkway and the Severn Tunnel are closed.

Earthworks are being improved along the route to accommodate the new track and signalling equipment.

Programme manager Ross Mahoney told RTM: “We’re on track. We’ve moved forward the enabling works programme to cover the earthworks sites first: we’re mobilising a few of those and working through them sequentially. There’s four currently live, mainly at the Kemble end and one at Swindon, and work’s progressing on each of those. Thereafter our civils and earthworks team will move onto the next batch.”

The track works, governed by possession availability, begin at Easter time [see box out for full timeline].

Project management

The works are being delivered by the Colas Rail Morgan Sindall Joint Venture. Although they came in at the GRIP 5 stage of the project, Network Rail involved them at the GRIP 4 stage. Mahoney explained: “We paid them a sum of money to familiarise themselves and immerse themselves within the project, read up on all the documentation, try to think about a delivery strategy that made sense at that stage, rather than post-tender – to get it in there early.

“They’ve recognised that they’re coming in at the GRIP 5 stage and that there’s lots of work that’s been done by professional, capable people before them, and they’ve retained the services of our GRIP 4 designer, Arup, to be their GRIP 5 designer. They are continuing with the design development of this job, so we’ve got design continuity all the way through – that’s a good thing.”

He said the arrangement was truly collaborative, without client and contractor constantly at each other’s throats over costs and so on. “We’re both working to the same objective,” Mahoney said.

A programme of works

Michelle Scogings, the senior sponsor for Investment Projects – Western, and the scheme sponsor for this project, said: “Because we’re accelerating a lot of the signalling on the Western, they are being done by the signalling renewals team, through our remit.”

That optimises the effi ciency, she said. “You couldn’t have two lots of signalling in the works, so it’s all being coincided – the commissioning of our re-doubling scheme and the enhancement coincides with the Swindon A resignalling and recontrol to Thames Valley. It’s the most effi cient way to do it. That was a key driver.”

Other works that are part of the project include additional signals between Kemble and Standish Junction, allowing headway reduction; the upgrading of level crossings at Minety and Purton’s Collins Lane; and a new footbridge in Stroud.

Track alignment

Enabling works will carry on throughout the spring and summer to prepare for the 23-day August 9 to September 2 Swindon-Kemble blockade, during which the existing track will be shifted to its new alignment. Weekend Gloucester-Swindon services will be replaced by buses during this period.

Outside of that blockade, the team is working nights, but during slightly longer than normal possession windows, since an agreement has been reached under which the last train in each direction between Swindon and Gloucester/ Cheltenham will be replaced by road transport on Monday to Thursday nights until Thursday 5 December. That allows a nightly possession of around eight hours instead of just under fi ve, so more akin to a Saturday night than a midweek night.

Mahoney said: “We have to pay for that shift anyway: we pay labour rates per shift. Yes, we have to incur a cost with our customers to arrange for alternative transportation for them, but that’s offset by the increased productivity and shorter duration it takes us as an overall programme. From an industry perspective, we’ve looked at the whole cost of doing it, and the advantages and disadvantages, and we feel this is the best way to do it.”

The operator, First Great Western, has been heavily involved in the planning and advised Network Rail on the best time of year to do the works. “They’ve recommended what’s best for their passengers so we’ve co-agreed that as part of the work scope,” Mahoney said.

Explaining the track works themselves, he explained: “Over time, the existing single line has gone from one side to the other or to the middle; generally speaking it’s on the up side as far as Purton, then there are a few positions where it dives into the centre of the formation. In August, we’ll be moving the tracks around that section onto that same side, out of the middle of the formation. Beyond Purton – between Purton and Swindon – it actually crosses over onto the other side of the railway as a rule, but again there are still a few areas where it dives back into the centre of the formation.

“As far as the travelling public are concerned, we’ll still have a single-line railway operating between the two locations: all we’re doing is clearing it out and making sure there’s a space for us to excavate next to it, so we’ll be able to work from trains on the existing single line.”

After the blockade, the new track will be installed. “We’ve got an aligned commissioning from that day in September when the blockade ends, we then work on a nightly basis, churning through the route, excavating and installing our new track adjacent to the current running line. Passengers will see no impact, other than what they can see out of the window of their train.

“There are single-to-double railway junctions in place at either end at the moment. We’ll be taking both of those out, put in new crossovers, and will also go back to cut the rails where the track at Purton goes from one side to the other. We’ll install plain line on both of those lines there to make sure there’s that continuity of rail.”

After the signalling renewals team have done their part of the work, the connection will be made at Easter 2014.

Logistical challenges

Although the civils and track works are not especially complex or challenging, some of the logistical issues with the re-doubling are more so.

Mahoney said: “We have a small fl eet of engineering trains and wagons that we essentially need to gain a monopoly on because we’re going to be using them day-in, day-out. We’re going to have two trains per night going in from next month onwards, when we start our track works. In that August blockade, for example, we’ve got 100 engineering train movements. Logistically, that’s a challenge, and the complexity we deal with is more in terms of the volume we’re trying to do. Plain line track renewal is what we do elsewhere on the network on a nightly basis, but the challenge for us is doing it in the same location night after night, and doing it over 12 miles.”

The milestones are also extremely important, and Mahoney said he was “acutely aware” that hitting them is vital. “We’re governed by the regulator, we report all our milestones to them, and they track our performance. We’re under no illusions: if we fail to hit milestones, we’ll be held to account, and a lot of people will be asking serious questions.”

Although fi nal delivery is just inside CP5, it’s a CP4 scheme, Scogings said, but very much a capacity/capability scheme, not a performance one.

Mahoney explained: “This scheme is about improving the capability of the network for future growth and future demand. There are no defi nitive timetable changes associated with this: that’s not in our remit to push forward, though with the infrastructure we’re providing, the train operator will be able to go to the DfT should they wish and propose timetable adjustments and more services.

“One of the key rationales for doing this scheme is the diversionary capability. It allows us a network operator and infrastructure maintainer to deliver all of the Bristol and the electrifi cation works, for the greater good of the network, without as much impact.”

FGW’s view

Mark Hopwood, First Great Western managing director, said: “We have been talking to our customers about these improvements for some time and we are grateful to them for their feedback and help in realising this project. This upgrade is vitally important to improve our customers’ travel experiences for the future.

“Further improvements to the network infrastructure will pave the way for faster, more reliable services and makes the most of the Government’s planned investment in electrifi cation and new trains – whoever has the honour of running the franchise beyond 2014.”


· December 2012: Site earthworks started
· March 2013 – August 2013: Enabling works for second track installation
· 9 August 2013 – 2 September 2013: 23- day blockade to move existing track to its new alignment
· September 2013 – December 2013: Track works to install the new second line
· January 2014 – April 2014: Signalling installation and preparatory works ahead of Easter commissioning
· 13 April 2014 – 22 April 2014: New infrastructure commissioned at Easter 2014 (Source: Network Rail)

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