Rail Industry Focus


Last of New Street’s major civils works underway

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Oct/Nov 2014

Chris Montgomery, Network Rail’s project director for the New Street project, and Paul Dalton, Mace’s senior project manager and associate director, give their thoughts on the latest civils work on the redevelopment of Birmingham’s main station and what the finished gateway will deliver for the city’s future.

The last of the major civils work on Birmingham New Street station is underway, with the entire project expected to be finished on time by September 2015.

Over the next six months, demolition work on part of the former Pallasades shopping centre will be carried out by contractor Coleman & Company (Coleman), using a specially designed machine: the Mega Muncher.

The new atrium roof has already been finished and fitted, with the final piece put into place during September.

Atrium roof

Made from the same high-tech material as the Eden Project in Cornwall, the translucent roof covering will allow natural light to stream down through the atrium onto the new concourse below – but not before the demolition experts remove about 6,000 tonnes of concrete over two floors of the old Pallasades shopping centre.

Network Rail’s project director for the New Street project Chris Montgomery said the atrium roof was made watertight in August, but it was quite a challenge getting the roof into place.

“People won’t realise when they come to Birmingham, but the structure isn’t a rectangular box,” he said, “the structure sits on piers that sit on columns located on the platforms between the tracks.

“If you know the layout of Birmingham, they also aren’t straight, they curve and fan out. So, effectively, all of those columns coming up are not on a regular pattern. The structure has to sit on the columns, so it was quite a challenge getting the geometry of the structure right and transferring the load. Then we have what is a pretty spectacular atrium on top of that structure.”

However, now that the work is done, he is extremely positive about the progress being made on the demolition by the Mega Muncher on such a complex project.

“Because we have to keep the station operational, the traditional way of building the station would be from bottom up, but we are building it from top down,” he said. “We’ve actually put the roof on and then we’re doing a lot of demolition – knocking a hole in the Pallasades’ roof, the size of a football pitch, and then a hole in the next floor down, slightly smaller, that will flood light down onto the concourse.

“A key piece of the work was ‘transferring the load’ from the concrete into the steel all around the perimeter of the roof. Now we’ve done that, we’re full-steam ahead with demolition, which is quite a complex piece of work.”

Munching along

The specially-designed Mega Muncher, which ‘munches’ concrete into small chunks that can be removed down chutes into a waiting vehicle, helps keep noise levels down during night work. It has been reported that this approach is “significantly” quieter and less disruptive than traditional jackhammer-type methods.

Paul Dalton, senior project manager and associate director at Mace, told us there are challenging elements throughout a major project like New Street, “but the big one for me is the atrium demolition and completion of it”.

“We have started the demolition and it is due for completion in March, but we’re trying to bring that forward,” he added. “The work is an absolutely critical path activity because once the demolition is done we then have to finish the internal skin of the atrium, which is a combination of GRG (glass reinforced gypsum) panels and stretched fabric on the side of the trusses.”

Mace, Network Rail’s delivery partner on New Street, recently switched the demolition team from Coleman on to day and night shifts, so they are now working two 10-hour shifts, five days a week. Dalton said: “We’ve extended the time they work, as we were concerned that the night work could be disruptive because of the city centre location, noise and vibration.

“But we’ve put in a number of measures to deaden the noise coming off the station and they seem to be working very well. We haven’t had any complaints, and we’ve managed to take significant volumes of concrete out during the night.”

The Mega Muncher, which was shown off to David Cameron and George Osborne during the recent Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, is being used to clear concrete slabs away during the day to expose beams, which are then ‘munched’ during the night.

Post-civils work

Montgomery added that the project teams have progressed well at the concourse level, and a lot of the final permanent flooring is in. He said: “By the time we finish the demolition – which is programmed for March, but I hope it might be February – that’s the last of the big civil engineering works.

“The real challenge then is the testing and commissioning of all the live safety systems on the station. We’ve allowed ourselves about a six-month period doing that.

“We have a very old station that has lots of old infrastructure and systems on it. We’re replacing those with brand new systems and a very intelligent Building Management System (BMS), and everything revolves around live safety systems.”

RTM was told the new system is majorly integrated. For example, the fire system: if a fire alarm goes off it then connects into the BMS and, once a fire is confirmed, the BMS starts shutting down escalators, lifts, closes vents and makes the impulse fans work – effectively locking the building down.

“The challenge is converting an old system onto a new system, while maintaining the station as operational,” said Montgomery. “That’s one of the big focuses once the civils have ended. Now we also have a combined system because we’re opening the whole station up under the atrium. So we will have a station system and shopping centre system and the two need to interact.”

Most of the live safety systems are looked after by contractor NG Bailey, but once operational Network Rail will have responsibility for the live safety systems.

Dalton told RTM that work is now “well into phase 2 of the project”, which is due for completion in September 2015. “That means opening the east concourse and linking it through to phase 1 – the west concourse – basically completing the concourse.” he said. “Very shortly afterwards, we then open the retail element, which is the new Grand Central shopping centre directly above the concourse, and also at the same time John Lewis will open its doors for trading.”

Employment opportunities and collaboration

He added that September is the “absolute key milestone”, but there is much to do before then. Both Dalton and Montgomery said they are very proud of the teams that have worked on New Street, and the employment opportunities the project has created.

There are 107 apprentices working on New Street, learning skills from brick-laying to project management.

“We are very impressed by the number of high-quality apprentices we’ve attracted. We’ve worked very closely with Birmingham City Council and its Employment Access team, which has found youths from the long-term unemployment list and those in deprived areas and trained them up with NVQs with the contractors,” said Montgomery.

“This has been fantastic. I think we’re pretty fortunate to be working in such a boom sector as rail. NG Bailey, which is probably our biggest contractor with over £80m of work, their project director used to be an apprentice. And I think NG Bailey has taken about 20 apprentices on. It is really important.”

Dalton told us: “We’ve been involved with New Street for over three years now working with Network Rail, and that means we’ve got staff from them working as part of the delivery team and equally there are Mace staff working as part of their governance team.

“It really is a collaborative way of working and people looking from the outside wouldn’t know which are Network Rail and which are Mace staff. That is a testament to the collaborative working.”

Iconic image of CP5

Montgomery stated: “If people look at King’s Cross, I think that is the iconic image of our CP4. I’m sure that New Street will be the iconic image of CP5; without a doubt. I think it is the only big station scheme that is going live within the control period and the only shopping centre coming to the market in quite some time.

“Add those two together and it will be a momentous occasion. I’m very proud not just for me, but the entire team.”

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