Rail Industry Focus


Delays for Cardiff resignalling despite major ‘de-risk’

Source: RTM Apr/May 15

Christian Irwin, the senior project manager for the Cardiff Area Signalling Renewal scheme, talks about how the programme has been ‘de-risked’ during a major restructure. David Stevenson reports.

Originally due for completion this year, the Cardiff Area Signalling Renewal (CASR) scheme, which is expected to improve rail services on the Cardiff and Valleys network, has slipped by two years. Associated costs have continued to climb. 

Network Rail had budgeted £220m for the works, which included replacing over 300 signals, 12 miles of track, 59 sets of points and building seven additional platforms, but this figure has now increased by a further £50m at least. 

Of the five phases – Vale of Glamorgan, Valley Lines, Barry, East of Cardiff, and Cardiff Central & West of Cardiff – Network Rail has so far been able to commission the first three. 

Summer slippage 2014 

It was during the phase 4 works – East of Cardiff – when things started to go awry. Slippages in the delivery of critical path track works in summer 2014 led to significant changes in the future commissioning plan. 

At the time, two new junctions were to be created, Moorland Road Junction and Long Dyke Junction, both with ladder crossings. These were intended to reduce the need for trains to reverse at Cardiff West and give more flexibility for the platforms at Cardiff Central. An extensive programme of engineering trains was planned with a temporary virtual quarry established at Cardiff Marshalling sidings.

But the programme of work quickly fell behind schedule, and the two crossovers are still to be installed. 

Christian Irwin, the senior project manager for CASR, who came on board after the problems at Long Dyke, told RTM: “We failed to deliver the scope of the works we needed to in 2014 and that involved some of the major track works we had to do at Long Dyke. We have now completed another 50% of them and just have the remaining crossovers to complete. 

“Over the late May bank holiday weekend we have got two large crossovers that we need to install over a three-day possession. That is the last piece of major outstanding work we need to do. This will then allow us to go ahead with the signalling commissioning at the back end of June.” 

He told us that the problems at Long Dyke have had a major knock-on effect. 

“What that ultimately meant was that we couldn’t commission phase 4 when we planned to in October 2014 and this then meant we couldn’t commission phase 5 in Christmas last year,” said Irwin. 

“This has ultimately impacted on us because sheer demand for signalling testing resource for the whole of Network Rail across CP5 is phenomenal.” 

Irwin added that when he started on CASR he embarked on a whole re-planning process to find a gap in the Network Rail diary where he could negotiate the access with TOCs and FOCs to give the team a big disruptive possession needed to carry out the works, and get the required resources. 

This meant phase 4 slipped back by about nine months and, given that the Christmas 2015 resources were already taken by all Network Rail’s other major projects, CASR had to push phase 5 back to Christmas 2016. “This was the first available slot of the magnitude we required,” said Irwin. 

Despite these issues and many others facing the CASR team, Irwin was upbeat about the progress now being made. He is also sure that the revised programme will be delivered on time. 

“The whole re-planning process has been the big challenge. But now we have a revised baseline programme, which has been about maintaining that delivery,” he said. 

He said the programme is now built around the idea of ‘certainty of delivery’. “Some people might say that the programme is a little less risky than it was originally. I do agree, but we have to provide absolute certainty.” 

Millennium Stadium

Cardiff Queen Street 

There have been some positives to take away from the project, none more so than at Cardiff Queen Street, which now has two new platforms, a new entrance and is disability-compliant with new lifts installed. 

However, even this success story has had its challenges. For instance, there were delays after the team found asbestos when digging out the lift shafts. 

Platform 5 is a new down platform for longer distance services going via Pontypridd, and platform 1, the new ‘bay’ platform, provides a shuttle service to Cardiff Bay. 

“We fully opened the station building on the 30 November, which brought in the brand new station building including the new ticket offices, new barrier line and new CIS equipment,” said Irwin. 

“Then with the introduction of the new timetable in December last year both platforms were fully commissioned, so we entered the track and signalling into service and the platforms became live. 

“Both have a brand new lift up to them. We now have a fully disabled-compliant station with disabled access to all five platforms. We have new waiting shelters, new platform lighting, new PA – which is dual language – and has gone down really well.” 

RTM was told that the new platforms have helped remove some of the passenger congestion on the platforms (passengers traditionally shared the middle two platforms at Cardiff Queen Street). 

“The passenger numbers on those platforms were absolutely phenomenal,” said Irwin, adding that this meant getting passengers on and off trains could often be a lengthy process. But now capacity is spread across five platforms, with the timetable rewritten accordingly, there has been a “noticeable performance benefit” he said, with shorter dwell times while people board and alight. 

With regards to the asbestos, Irwin told us that every kind of hazardous material his team hoped they wouldn’t find, was found. And with the extra testing requirements this led to delays. 

A second challenge was that the team identified an old parcel tunnel under the station, which meant re-jigging the designs for the platform (as well as the track bed and also part of the station building) to mitigate the void. 

Buried services were also a major challenge. When Queen Street was built, those responsible never really considered the idea of having to re-wire and re-signal it. So everything was just buried underground, making for a high risk of cable strikes, explained Irwin. That was the reason why, at times, the work was very slow going. “We had to trace and find these cables, and they were often where we were building the new platforms.” 

All this work had to be done while maintaining a fully operational station, and while Network Rail and BAM Nuttall experienced some “commercial challenges”. But the team on the ground, according to Irwin, have worked extremely well together. 

Safety record 

As RTM reported in November, Network Rail summoned the CEO of BAM Nuttall to attend an executive committee meeting to explain a series of serious accidents, including one in September 2014, when one of its workers on the Cardiff Central project was crushed under a piece of machinery known as a brick grab and had to be airlifted to hospital. 

BAM Nuttall boss Stephen Fox attended the meeting and “reaffirmed” the company’s commitment to health and safety. 

Cardiff Central 

As part of the remodelling of Cardiff Central, a modern entrance building on the south side is being constructed as well as a new platform 8 and other facilities. The new station entrance, according to recent Network Rail timelines, was due to be complete in winter 2015, but this has been brought forward. 

“We’ve been challenged as a company to accelerate the new station building to have the entrance open in time for the Rugby World Cup,” Irwin said. 

Games are taking place at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in September and October. Irwin explained: “The station opening was always planned for late summer or early autumn. However, with the re-plan, we weren’t sure initially if that was possible until Christmas,” Irwin said. “But we’ve gone away with Arriva Trains Wales (ATW) and BAM Nuttall and have identified the pinch-points that held us up at Cardiff Queen Street to figure out where we lost time.” 

When a major event is being hosted in Cardiff, ATW implements a queueing system that cuts off access to the new station building construction site. But the team have managed to cut the downtime caused by this from 24 hours to eight. 

Although the station building is due in time for the Rugby World Cup, platform 8 (which will be built and finished at the same time) cannot be brought into service until Network Rail has done all the signalling and track work – which is part of CASR phase 5. 

“The final phase is Cardiff Central itself, which is the most complicated inter-lock. I think it is probably the most complicated computer-based inter-locking we’ve ever done, as it fringes onto all the other areas and phases,” said Irwin. “The signalling complexity is huge. We can only do phase 5, which includes Cardiff West, over a Christmas/New Year period. That will be taking place for a period of about nine days from Christmas Eve 2016 through to 2 January 2017 – when platform 8 will come into operational service.” 

The elevation of the station has necessitated the construction of an “enormous” retaining wall along its entire length during the work. And where platform 7 used to be, the team have had to remove a “phenomenal” amount of cables. “We’ve essentially had to do seven months of planning and two months of delivery,” said Irwin. 

“During the work we’ve run 24,000m of cable – inclusive of signalling, fibre-optic, telecoms and power cables; had to recover over 100 cables; and migrate over 700 vital signal and telecom circuits. 

“We’ve also had to build brand new location cases and relocate four location cases and build a new domestic power supply. We did all that without a single disruptive possession or delay to a train. 

“That was a fantastic achievement. Until we could move all those cables we weren’t able to build the platform and put the steels in for the station building. It was kind of the bottleneck for the whole programme. We probably had around 30 people working on-site in those two months.” 

Electrification and cost 

When the CASR work was first announced and contracted in CP4, the other major signalling, renewals and electrification projects for CP5 weren’t yet known. 

“But now we find ourselves, having slipped a couple of years, where electrification is now in our realm and is catching us up,” said Irwin. “It also means there’s more competition for the resources and access.” 

However, he claims this has had its benefits. For example, CASR has a fully-detailed final design, which he says has made it easier for the electrification team. “This is because they’ve, essentially, designed the electrification systems – the civils and stanchions for the wires – around our signals and where they’re going. But also around our new track re-modelling, because while CASR is badged as a signalling renewal project, the amount of track works in it is phenomenal,” he said. 

“Some of the electrification project’s biggest challenges are trying to build electrification systems where they can maintain their signal sighting. With us being here as well, we can work together to adapt to support each other.” 

Network Rail’s most recent update on its high-profile projects notes that CASR’s anticipated final cost is £268m – up significantly from the original £220m.

Irwin said the rise is a consequence of the re-planning. “We’ve declared publicly that there has been an increase of approximately £50m. We expect this to go up a little bit further, but I can’t commit to a price,” he told us – but they are “very nearly” ready to do so. RTM expects to be able to report the final price by July.

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